‘Parabellum’ step down for story, step up for franchise

Images courtesy Summit Entertainment.

8/10 John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is absolutely everything you’ve ever wanted out of an action movie. It is a pants-on-head insane celebration of stunts and choreography, an asylum of guns, knives, gothic noir landscapes, hounds of hell, classical literature, blood oaths, blood sacrifices, shattered glass, crimes, punishments and neon lights. It is a sendup of traditional filmmaking in which as much as possible is shot in-camera, a glorious carnival of everything that can be done with gleefully dismissive attitude toward the question of what should be done.

And that’s the first half hour of Parabellum. The rest is, I mean it’s not bad, it’s just different.

John Wick: Chapter 3 picks up right where Chapter 2 left off. Wick (Keanu Reeves) has a $14 million bounty on his head, and what’s worse, he’s killed a man on the grounds of the Continental Hotel, a mortal sin that means his life is forfeit regardless of the price, and the hotel’s sanctuary doors are closed to him. Wick calls in every favor he’s ever collected to get out of New York City and seek out the one man who can absolve his crime.

Meanwhile in the city, the High Table sends an adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) to collect blood from anyone and everyone who helped Wick.

We’ve talked before about the shaky-cam trend in post-Bourne action movies of the ‘00s, and John Wick leads a pack of high-quality films in the opposite direction – partially by being the name most identified with the trend, but mostly because franchise director Chad Stahelski continues to be openly critical of action movies that use shaky cam and rapid edits to hide the fact that they didn’t do the stunts. It’s an extremely loose group – the Raid movies from Indonesia, the later Mission: Impossible installments, Mad Max: Fury Road and Atomic Blonde, which is a sister franchise to Wick, can all be included in this trend.

While its several contemporaries are all excellent in their own way, there aren’t any other movies like the John Wick series.

It’s not just the action – it’s everything. It’s dialogue and characters perfectly tailored not only to Reeves, but to all of his co-stars as well. It’s the ever-deepening mythology that makes the world feel lived-in and all-encompassing and adds to the sense of Wick being suffocated by his past, the mysterious secret currencies among assassins that implies an entirely different structure for their society. It’s the grimly stylish gothic neo-noir look. No one sees this world the way cinematographer Dan Lausten does unless they’re watching these films. I mean, look at these shots-

But there’s something immediately different about Parabellum. Wick’s kills aren’t as efficient as they were. He’s going out of his way to kill his assailants in themed ways, and when he does use his handgun, he’s firing three or four execution shots instead of just one. Action scenes, and actions themselves, don’t seem motivated the way they were. The faceless mooks are now truly faceless, covered in armored helmets or turbans, partially removing the brutality of Wick’s extended rampage.

This series has always been about Reeves and Stahelski showing off, but where it had previously only been background knowledge to a compelling story, in Parabellum, it’s out in the open, with many scenes screaming at viewers that this doesn’t happen for any diagetic reason, it happens because Stahelski thought it would be fun.

And it is fun! There are a lot of laughs and squeals in Parabellum that aren’t there in previous installments. But for all its dogs-climbing-walls and “knife snowball fights” madness, Parabellum is mostly missing that sense of doom that gave the preceding film its bite. Chapter 2 its bite. John Wick: Chapter 2 is an action opera, a dramatic, draconian opus on destiny, damnation and the effect violence still has on violent people, and most of the series’ strongest contemporaries can say something similar.

What makes Parabellum stand out as having a particularly weak story – and this is kind of a spoiler – is that nothing changes. Several new characters and plot threads are introduced, and they’re all tied up just nicely by the film’s end, but after thousands of gallons of blood spilled, all the existing characters manage to end up essentially where they started. “Consequences” is this movie’s favorite word, but it doesn’t seem to have had any.

They really couldn’t have gotten Carrie-Anne Moss for this? She’s not busy.

If Parabellum feels like an excuse to string together action scenes Stahelski and Reeves thought would be cool, it’s because they’ve discussed their creative process and we know that’s exactly what happened. What doesn’t give them a pass is the fact that Chapter 2 was developed the same way, and Mission: Impossible – Fallout, another stunt-driven action movie with extremely strong theming, had a similarly haphazard scripting process with much stronger results.

Or maybe just different results. Movies don’t have to be what I want them to be, and all evidence to the contrary, I don’t actually want to tell filmmakers what to do. Stahelski is putting everything he ever wanted to make into this series, from the action to aesthetic choices and details that would seem to clash on paper but make some crazy form of sense sense when combined the way they are here. If he and Reeves want this installment to be a little more fun than the last two, they get to do that.

Parabellum is gorgeous, silly, audacious, spectacularly choreographed and shot and represents a tangible pull away from the CGI-laden set pieces of Marvel and other Disney properties. But it’s different than what I was hoping for.

Parabellum put together a $56.8 million debut last weekend, becoming the first film to dethrone Avengers: Endgame. That opening represents more money than the original John Wick made in its entire run – that film capped out at $43 million and change in 2014.

This series’ expanding popularity is highly encouraging from a number of different angles. Fury Road was supposed to be the flagship for a new kind of action film, but building all those vehicles made it so expensive that, despite critical fawning, it half-heartedly broke even at the box office, so there’ve been no imitators, and with writer/director George Miller currently suing Warner Bros, wheels aren’t close to spinning on a direct sequel.

But now with John Wick, we’re not only seeing mid-budget films that are consistently smash hits with critics and turning huge profits, we’re not only seeing a repeatable formula for both, we’re seeing the appetite for this kind of quality movie quantifiably growing as time moves on. Parabellum could start, or more properly accelerate, an avalanche of similar films. At the very least, John Wick: Chapter 4 was greenlit over the weekend for May 2021. I, and a demonstrably growing number of others, can’t wait.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook,  follow it on Twitter and Instagram and support it on Patreon. You can reach me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

Posted in Entropy | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Visually creative ‘Tolkien’ failed by fundamentally poor storytelling

Tolkien is notable as the first Fox film distributed after the Disney acquisition. Images courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

3/10 With the rate at which boring, inaccurate and horrendously bad biopics win awards, Tolkien could easily have been a formulaic Oscar grab. Instead, the creative team has gone in a different, much more ambitious direction, trying to recreate the events of J.R.R. Tolkien’s life through the eyes of someone who wrote like he did. The brave attempt is undermined by its basic storytelling failures.

Tolkien follows the title character (Nicholas Hoult and Harry Gilby) through the first 25 or so years of his life, focusing on a handful of relationships and locations that would directly inspire plot elements in his Lord of the Rings books.

Continue reading

Posted in Entropy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Detective Pikachu’ an adoring, vibrant journey into the Pokemon World

It’s a photorealistic pikachu! And it’s fuzzy and it’s got a magnifying glass and a deerstalker cap! Images courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures!

9/10 So they’re finally making a live-action Pokemon movie. I guess that’s all right. Guess the real surprise is that it took this long. Honestly, I’ve only got one request – don’t do it halfway. Don’t make some movie-product meant to be advertised for more than it’s meant to be consumed. Just make it real.

They made it real.

In the Pokemon World, Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), who once aspired to become a champion trainer, never left his hometown. When his police detective father dies, Goodman is called to settle his affairs in Ryme City – a new metropolis where battling is outlawed and man and wild pokemon live side by side. In his father’s apartment, Goodman meets Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), a miraculous mouse who can speak English, but only to Goodman. The pikachu has no memory, but describes himself as a world-class detective and resolves to find Goodman’s father.

Continue reading

Posted in Entropy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2016 election fan fiction piece ‘Long Shot’ is existentially disgusting

Images courtesy Lionsgate.

2/10 February 2017, Hollywood- Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg share their 14th bowl of the day on the friend-of-a-friend’s couch they’ve been crashing at for a period of time they still refer to as a handful of months, but has stretched past the year mark. Decades of marijuana-induced creativity had already crippled them. At this point, Goldberg needed at least three ounces to come up with a decent password, and even then, it was mostly just “asdf” with different letters capitalized. The easily distractible duo’s thinking had been further bogged down by the 2016 presidential election, which, to its credit, had perfectly captured the kind of absurdism they’d only ever blown smoke at.

As the grass dwindles with the subtle signs of their near-impenetrable tolerance holding staunch, that fresh dank smell fading so much more rapidly than it used to, the munchies now saked by only a couple bites of Pop-Tart, the high that now takes so long to hit that during every session each of them at some point for some moments thinks, “this is it, it’ll never come, I’ll never be high again,” Rogen suddenly has the idea that had eluded them all this time, the golden dream that will carry them off of the friend-of-a-friend’s couch and back into an at-least one-bedroom apartment for at least a few months or so. He turns to Goldberg, breathless.

“What if Hillary, but hawt?”

Continue reading

Posted in Entropy | 1 Comment

A fitting ‘Endgame’ for the MCU

Images courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

8/10 Maybe I would like all of these movies more if they were three hours long.

Avengers: Endgame follows in the immediate aftermath of Avengers: Infinity War, which ended when a failed philosophy undergrad named Thanos (Josh Brolin) wiped out half of the universe with six all-powerful infinity stones. At first, Earth’s mightiest heroes try the obvious – grabbing the stones back and using them to reverse the situation. Doesn’t work. The remaining avengers are forced live on in a new world mired not only in bereavement and regret, but in the stink of their personal failure.

Continue reading

Posted in Entropy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment