[This story contains spoilers for John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.]
We live in the era of seemingly never-ending franchises and intellectual property. The days of a film series being a trilogy only are long gone. Even the Star Wars films, mostly composed of different trilogies, keep going because there’s an appetite for new entries. The Marvel films similarly seem impossible to stop themselves even after Avengers: Endgame.
But even smaller-scale franchises likely won’t end after three titles. Take the John Wick films, for example. This weekend marked the arrival of the third entry, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. You might wonder if this would be the final chapter in the series, if this would be a true trilogy. But if the ending is any indication, we’ve at least got one more chapter to get through — in addition to a potential spinoff, which filmmaker Chad Stahelski has strongly hinted is set up in Chapter 3.
The end of 2017’s John Wick: Chapter 2 sets up Parabellum quite nicely. John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a mostly silent assassin, once known as the Baba Yaga/Boogeyman for his fearsome capabilities at murder most foul. He had once been able to leave the business behind, settling down with his wife. When she dies, and the support dog she left behind for him is murdered, John goes on a rampage to avenge his loss.
In the second entry, the Italian mobster who had enabled John to get out of the life to begin with demands that our hero pay back the favor, only for John to learn that the mobster wanted John dead all along. In a fit of anger, John does the one thing he never should do: kill the mobster on the property of the Continental, an assassins-only hotel at which “business” is never conducted. Now that John’s broken the rules, he’s marked for death with just an hour as a head start. So, in Parabellum, he’s on the run, from New York to Morocco and back again.
While John is getting into an extended number of bloody scrapes, there’s a separate plot running throughout Parabellum with a new character, an Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon). The Adjudicator is not judging John specifically; instead, they judge the people who enabled John to go free, from Continental manager Winston (Ian McShane) to the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne). Winston is given a week to vacate his hotel or die, but the Bowery King is seemingly slaughtered in his pigeon sanctuary for defying a demand to step down.
And at the film’s midpoint, John finds himself in front of the mysterious Elder (Said Taghmaoui) of the High Table, the assassin group that oversees all the murderers we’ve seen in these films. The Elder has a simple, devastating request: kill Winston, after which John’s status would be restored. But both John and Winston have plans of their own, holing up in the deserted Continental to take on the High Table and escape death.
Of course, John and Winston are victorious, or so it seems. Winston and the Adjudicator parlay on the roof of the hotel, with one twist: if Winston wants his own status restored, he has to get rid of John. And then, in what appears to be a big shock, he shoots John twice and sends him over the roof of the hotel to what must be his death. But, of course, that’s not remotely true — when the Adjudicator goes to check John’s body, they find it missing.
That’s because, shot though he was, John escapes and is brought to a surprising source: the not-at-all-dead Bowery King. Though he’s got plenty of scars from the various knife wounds he received, the Bowery King is very much alive and now extremely angry. Or, as he says to John in the final moments, “I’m pissed off.” As soon as John concurs, the film cuts to its end credits, confirming that if the box office pans out, we may yet get a fourth chapter in the years to come.
This is an enormously encouraging conclusion: three films in, the John Wick series remains as incredible, exciting and thrilling as it was in the first entry. If the conventional wisdom is that sequels are always a step down from their predecessors, these movies are the exception to the rule. Just as Chapter 2 raised the stakes successfully, so too does Parabellum, whose action is delightfully unrelenting and inventive from start to finish. Though there’s a bit more portent to John Wick’s future in Parabellum, he survives to live another day. And the logical endpoint of the series becomes even clearer: to get free of the assassin’s life, John has to take on the High Table.
If that’s not the core premise of the fourth John Wick film, it would be extremely surprising. When the Adjudicator describes the necessity of following the rules, and viciously punishes anyone who doesn’t, it becomes more evident that the rigidity of following these rules are part of the problem. Though it’s not the Adjudicator who shoots John at the end of the film, there’s little question that it’s the High Table that led to this fate. (Also, maybe it’s just a reaction to enjoying the McShane/Reeves chemistry, but it seems hard to imagine that Winston didn’t shoot John purposefully, knowing our dark hero wouldn’t die in the moment and would come back to fight another day.)
It’s also exciting to consider the possibility of a fourth John Wick film because of John’s potential partnership with the Bowery King. The character, and his network of homeless people, is fascinating enough, but any fan of the Matrix films must be delighted at Reeves and Fishburne spending time together again. Seeing them pair up for a new film would be a hell of a payoff, too. The future of the John Wick series is technically murky — if the movie doesn’t do well at the box office, the fourth film may die on the vine — but if the filmmakers want, they can naturally give the fourth pic’s subtitle a Matrix-esque reference: call it John Wick: Chapter 4 – Revolution.