The baba yaga is back! John Wick (Keanu Reeves), the retired hitman who apparently doesn’t know what retirement means, is now on the run from the entire criminal underworld. John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum picks up where John Wick: Chapter 2 left off – Wick has broken a major rule in which his punishment is death. Wick has been ruled “excommunicado” by The High Table, but he’s been given a head start by Winston (Ian McShane), the New York Continental hotel manager and Wick’s friend. With that little bit of help, Wick sets forth to reverse his excommunicado status so maybe he can return to living a normal life. Although we know his life can never return to normalcy, at least we can see John Wick take out everyone in his path (in creative and rather amusing ways) during his journey.

As all sequels do, the stakes are raised, and the players involved grows. Chad Stahelski, who’s served as director since the beginning, pulled out the big guns, both with the action and with the cast. In addition to retaining McShane, Laurence Fishburne and Lance Reddick (Charon the concierge), Stahelski brought in Halle Berry, Anjelica Huston, Mark Dacascos, Said Taghmaoui and Jason Mantzoukas. And for fans of The Raid series, action badasses Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman are here to throw down against everyone’s favorite boogeyman. With as expansive cast in place, a lot goes down during Parabellum’s 131-minute runtime, which is a drawback.

To expand upon that, Parabellum has a myriad of subplots, more than the previous two films combined. Wick returns to his old Russian mob and their leader (Huston), whom he walked away from when he retired, and uses a favor owed to him for passage to Casablanca. While in Casablanca, Wick gets help from Sofia (Berry), manager of the local Continental (and former assassin), in order to arrange a meet with The Elder, a senior member of The High Table. From there, Wick, Sofia and Sofia’s two dogs kill a whole bunch of people, Wick is then driven to the desert, then he takes a blood oath, and messes up his suit. While Wick is running around Morocco, an adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) for The High Table arrives in New York to assess damages and hands down punishments to Winston, the Director (Huston) and the Bowery King (Fishburne). Oh, and Zero (Dacascos), a high-level assassin, and his team of assassins are hunting Wick! Somehow all of it will come together and, of course, an all-out war will ensue.

With all of that going on, the second half moves slowly for an action film. There is a big shootout during the final act that’s not impressive when compared to the film’s first half set pieces. Then Wick fights many opponents, working his way up to a final boss a la Double Dragon (or any video game, for that matter). They retain some of the fun with some wholly unbelievable scenes, but it comes at the cost of story that, at times, drags .

And what’s worse, we’re no longer having as much fun. The original John Wick embraced the absurdity of its “revenge for a dog” storyline, whereas Parabellum attempts to transition from that into a semi-serious crime saga, with so-so results. Parabellum began with plenty of fun (I mean, c’mon, 7’3’ Philadelphia 76ers center Boban Marjanovic makes a fun and humorous cameo as a hitman), too, but things progressed the less fun it became.

In regards to the fun that was available, most of it was provided by Sofia and her dogs. Sofia is as adept an assassin as Wick, and she puts in work, taking out many a bad guy. But Sofia’s dogs go the hardest as they fearlessly and quickly dispatch assailants as Sofia utters commands.

Parabellum, as a standalone film, is one of the (if not) best action films of the year. The action set pieces go hard to the point of unbelievability, but they retain authenticity (i.e., practical effects and stunts are awesome!). But within the Wick-iverse, it’s a fun ride that isn’t as fun as its predecessors.

4 stars out of 5


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