'John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum': What the Critics Are Saying

Critics praise the tightly choreographed fight scenes and Keanu Reeves' performance in the title role.
Courtesy of Lionsgate

Reviews are in for John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, the third installment of the action franchise starring Keanu Reeves as a legendary hit man, and critics have positive feelings about the film, even as some are ambivalent about its gun violence and world-building plot.

Former-stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski returns to helm a screenplay from Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins and Marc Abrams. As anticipated, the story raises the stakes: Wick is on the run with a $14 million contract on his life. Joining Reeves in the danger zone are Anjelica Huston, Halle Berry and Laurence Fishburne. 

In The Hollywood Reporter, critic John DeFore praised the film's fight sequences and fan service, even as he acknowledged some of the film's more ridiculous attributes. "An epic of choreographed mayhem that expands the Wickiverse in mostly pleasing ways, it is destined to satisfy fans of this surprise-hit franchise: If its ludicrous aspects bug you, what the hell are you doing here?" he asked.

Though DeFore nitpicks the liberties the film takes with New York geography in its first few scenes, he praises the final fight sequence as "much more beautiful than the last film's finale." DeFore adds, "This sequence also makes better use of the personalities in the room and, in its best moments, is as thrilling as the leaner fight scenes that got the movie started."

Over at USA Today, Brian Truitt gave the latest installment in the series three stars out of four, noting that while it provided some "awfully fun" moments, it paled in comparison to John Wick: Chapter 2. "This third movie brings both the operatic action and intriguing exposition, though misses the greatness of Chapter 2 because of a convoluted last act and underdeveloped supporting characters," he wrote.

Still, Truitt gave Reeves kudos for his third outing in the role of Wick: Though The Matrix's Neo may be the actor's most iconic role, Wick is "the real chosen one," Truitt writes. "At 54, the actor gives his laconic character the fitting gravitas of a life lived very dangerously, as well as all the necessary headshots, kung fu chops and other kick-butt moves that drive the franchise."

Vox's Alissa Wilkinson praises the series for remaining silly and fun, focusing more on the dynamism of its images than the complexity of its plot. "Anything resembling a plot in Parabellum really exists for one reason: to get us from cool-looking scene to cool-looking scene.... In its third installment, the series has grown into what would happen if the entire Travel Channel directed a movie, with Wick’s story hurling him from New York to the furthest reaches of the planet and back again," she writes.

Though some parts of the film are flat-out "stupid," she argues, ultimately Wilkinson compares the latest Wick to a ballet, which focuses on the beauty of human bodies in motion. "The dance-like sensibility is what makes John Wick so lovely to watch. Yes, the world of the assassins is entrancing, and the cast — especially Reeves, who holds the whole thing together — is uniformly great. The flashes of humor and kookiness (as with the aforementioned Tick-Tock Man) keep the whole thing from taking itself too seriously," Wilkinson writes.

Critical of how the Wick movies have begun to resemble superhero films in their complex mythology (the "Wickian Universe"), Jake Coyle of the Associated Press fondly remembered how the first film was "a taut, minimalist action movie with an appeal predicated on low-expectations and leanness." Though he acknowledges that the graceful fight scenes in Parabellum generally leave other film franchises in the dust, Coyle noted that the film's rising death count and gruesome beatings seemed out of touch. 

"As the body count swells, the relentless sound of gun blasts, and the occasional knife stuck in a skull begins to pulverize," Coyle writes. "Fans will surely eat it all up, but the John Wick films have nothing to say about gun violence despite its absurd abundance."

At IGN, Jim Vejvoda similarly criticized the "mythmaking" and "worldbuilding" in the new series installment, as he noted that, sometimes, additions to the saga's complexity are "undone" just a few scenes later, begging the question of why they were included in the first place. Overall, though, he praises Reeves' third time in the role of Wick, saying, "Keanu Reeves once again owns the screen as this most sympathetic of good bad men, providing another emotionally restrained performance even while clearly giving it his all physically."

Polygon's Karen Han notes that though Parabellum follows a standard John Wick plot formula and that the middle of the movie is lethargic, "gosh, are the beginning and end a total blast." The new film is the "silliest" in the franchise, Han argues, with Jason Mantzoukas' "Tick-Tock Man" character, a hotel for assassins, a plot involving dogs and Fishburne addressing a pigeon providing some comic relief. Though the film's trip to Casablanca slows things down, overall the movie will "keep audiences wanting more," Han says.

For The A.V. Club, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky references the visual spectacle of Parabellum, realized by cinematographer Dan Laustsen, writing that the film serves up "sequences of terrific action," which Stahelski "directs with aplomb, making the most of Reeves' physical commitment to the role." The critic goes on to comment that the violence is ickier and more cartoonish than its predecessors, "The body count might be in the triple figures, and it involves a lot of skewered, crushed and blown-off heads." Although Vishnevetsky praises the action sequences and notes that they rank within the best of the series, he also observes a "certain fatigue to its two biggest set pieces."

Chris Evangelista also emphasizes the abundance of action in his Slash Film review. "There’s so much running, chasing, punching, shooting, stabbing, and exploding in John Wick: Chapter 3 that it can be just as overwhelming and exhausting as it is thrilling —and the movie knows this," writes the critic, adding that exhaustion is a running theme throughout the narrative. "John Wick looks tired," Evangelista continues. "Sure, he’s still very capable at slaughtering his enemies, but he’s lost the spring in his step. He’s rundown and tired of running, and the movie — and Reeves’ performance — lean into that."

He goes on to note that the film expresses a sense of humor and is the most playful of the three films. "Stahelski and company have figured out exactly what this series is, and exactly who John Wick is as a character, and thus know exactly how to play John’s plight for laughs," concludes the critic. 

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum releases in theaters May 17.