Keanu Reeves gave audiences what they wanted in 2014 with John Wick—a lethal assassin who has managed to retire from a life of violence to marry the woman of his dreams. When illness takes her and then the son of Wick’s former boss destroys her last gift to him, Wick returns to his former world on a mission of vengeance. After quadrupling its modest budget at the box office, Reeves and company came back with John Wick: Chapter 2 in 2017. It was for the most part more of the same—the killer only wants to be left alone but can’t escape his past after his strict code of honor and an unforgivable betrayal keep a target on his head. Despite a similar plot and familiar action sequences, the combination of well-choreographed Gun Fu and interesting world-building once again scored in theaters.
It comes as no surprise that the franchise is back. John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum picks up just minutes after the conclusion of Chapter 2. Wick has broken the rules of the powerful criminal organization that has corporatized the assassination business and is on the run with a $14 million contract on his head and his access to aid and sanctuary cut off. Again, Wick takes physical punishment as wave after wave of hit-men and -women come after him. Again, Wick mows through them with arm breaks and headshots while a bass-heavy electronica soundtrack pulses in the background. Again, there are friends who become foes, and enemies that become exceedingly polite and proper when they’re not trying to disembowel you.
Perhaps it didn’t help to see all three films in one day as part of a Harkins marathon, but Wick 3 didn’t do enough to differentiate itself from the first two films. When the plot is thin and predictable, the action needs to stand out—that helped the first Wick installment succeed. While trying to become more Bond-like with flashy villains, international settings and zany stunts, some gimmicks are repeated far too often: cell phones ringing as an assassination contract hits the air, a knife piercing flesh slowly before being pounded home, Wick and a bad guy racing to reload before one shoots the other. The (mostly) practical effects are fun, and the Gun Fu is well rehearsed and executed, but the Wick has started to burn out.