John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum ★★★★

"Si vis pacem, para bellum." ~ Winston

I actually preferred the second John Wick movie to the first, so I decideed to double down on the third installment and see it in the theater. Once again Chad Stahelski is in the director's chair, Derek Kolstad is on the writing team, and Keanu Reeves takes the title role. Ian McShane returns for his third appearance as Winston, the manager of the New York City Continental, Laurence Fishburne is back from Chapter 2 as the Bowery King, and now we have a lovely new addition to the mayhem, with Halle Berry as Sofia, a former friend of John's who manages the Casablanca Continental.

When we left Chapter 2, the High Table had just doubled the global contract on John. Because the former assassin killed a made man, Santino D'Antonio, on the "safe haven" grounds of the NYC Continental, Winston declared John "excommunicado" and no longer eligible for services "under the table." John was given a one-hour head start to avoid the squads of bounty-hunters certain to come after him. And that's just what they do to kick-off this Chapter.

A fight scene in a library offers a pretty good idea of the violence to come. John requires some stitching up after that, and he barely has time to visit his friend "The Doctor" (Randall Duk Kim) before getting into a serious knife fight with half a dozen Chinese killers and other assorted hit men en route to see the head of the Ruska Roma mob, a matriarch known as "The Director" (Anjelica Huston).

By the time the action takes a pause, the audience was pretty much breathless and I had already lost track of the body count. However, the scene that nauseated me most wasn't the stabbing, shooting or martial arts, some of which is really pretty funny. No, it was watching a young ballerina, whose feet were bloody from practicing, as she peels off a big toenail. Talk about gross!

Out of loyalty to a Belarus orphan and against the rules of the High Table, the Director cashes John's "ticket" and arranges his passage to Morocco. In Casablanca, he meets up with Sophia, redeems the marker she gave him for helping to save her daughter's life back when, and has a meeting with her former boss Berrada (Jerome Flynn). That gets us back into the violent action, including ferocious dogs, daggers, automatic weapons and chases.

It seems John has this idea that he can get redemption if he can talk to the only man above the High Table, the mysterious "Elder" (Saïd Taghmaoui), who lives somewhere in the Sahara Desert. John will have to almost die of dehydration and exposure before that meeting happens, but in the meantime a much more interesting plot line is developing back in New York.

The High Table is none too pleased that Wick broke the rules and he was aided in his escape by Winston, as well as by the Bowery King, who provided John with the gun that killed Santino. The Table sends an icy woman called "The Adjudicator" (Asia Kate Dillon) to inform the two men that they have seven days to put their affairs in order. They are being replaced.

Neither of the guys is willing to step down voluntarily from a position of wealth and power, so the Adjudicator arranges for a team of ninja-like killers to enforce the order. They are led by a swordsman known as Zero (Mark Dacascos), who has a sushi restaurant as his cover. Oddly enough, all of these Asian assassins have a high degree of respect for John and his deadly skills. To them, it is almost an honor to be carrying out executions related to his misdeeds.

Look for more bloodshed, some double-dealing and impossible survival skills en route to a closing that sets up Chapter 4, already announced for release in 2021. Oh yeah. John's dog "Dog" should be back, along with Lance Reddick as Charon, the concierge of the NYC Continental, as well as the rest of the crew still left alive after all this carnage. By one count, Wick alone takes out 94 people in this film, bringing his trilogy total to 299 (77 in Ch.1 and 128 in Ch.2). Never a cop in sight, and scarcely an innocent bystander harmed. I say see it in the theater after a pedicure but not before.

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