John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum

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During an uncharacteristically quiet moment in “John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum,” the hero seeks out The Director, a mysterious crime boss who’s played by Anjelica Huston. She’s protected him in the past, but now she’s dismayed that he’s on the run, with a $14 million bounty on his head. “All of this for what?” she asks. “Because of a puppy?” “It wasn’t just a puppy,” he insists.

But it was. By now John Wick, the contract killer played by Keanu Reeves, has endured countless insults to his body and psyche. At one point in this terrific new film he runs at full tilt as if the several knives stuck in his back were only acupuncture needles. But all the mayhem did begin, in the first film five years ago, with a puppy—an adorable little beagle named Daisy, delivered to his door as a present his wife arranged before her death. Daisy brought new love into John’s life until thugs from a Russian crime syndicate invaded his home, killed his puppy and almost did him in.

Dogs figure significantly in the series. Wick got a new one in the second installment, a beautiful pit bull with no name. This film also features ferocious attack dogs owned and operated by Halle Berry’s Sofia, another assassin who lives in Moorish splendor Casablanca. I’m dwelling on the subject, you understand, because my own dog, Skeezix, is mortally ill after filling my life with joy for the past 16 years. So I worried about Wick’s love of dogs, and all the talk about them, getting in the way of my enjoying the film.

That wasn’t the case, though, for reasons having more to do with movies than with man’s best you know what.

I’d admired the previous John Wick sagas for the elegance of their action sequences, even though I never felt much of anything about the supremely efficient and perfectly impassive killer at their center. Same thing this time. I felt nothing about him or his dog, and next to nothing, for a couple of hours, about mine. And that wasn’t a bad thing, it was liberating thing—a refresher course in the nature of escapist entertainment.

The pleasure of these spectacles springs from the purity of their artificiality. Dogs, horses, antique weapons, exotic cars, the intricate rules of an assassins’ guild: They’re all accessories and appliances in a rapturous dream of perpetual motion.

The best action stuff in “John Wick” takes you totally out of yourself. A fight in a library gives new meaning to the notion of bookish. A fight in a stable sets up hoofish expectations, then fulfills them. In a sensational sequence on an East River bridge, columns of com-batt-ants on motorcycles battle one another with swords.

It is, every bit of it, the cat’s meow. I’m Joe Morgenstern. I’ll be back on KCRW next week with more reviews.