I confess I missed much of John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, because every time someone got shot in the face, I rolled my eyes. So I spent a lot of time not looking at the screen.
I admired the original John Wick. It was little more than 100 straight minutes of graphic violence, but the artistry and choreography of that violence elevated it to a level approaching the platonic ideal of John Woo’s Hong Kong films. And casting Keanu Reeves was a masterstroke, because we instantly root for him, even though John Wick is plainly psychotic. He’s a bad guy killing worse people, but the craft behind the mayhem was exceptional.
This led to John Wicks 2 and now 3, adding a fairly silly story about an underworld society of assassins, most of whom want to kill John Wick, resulting in many, many murders. The sheer brutality escalates rapidly. But, as the brutality ramps up, the artistry tails down.
The set design is stunning, and they do come up with novel ways to kill people (though it’s still mostly face shots). But at this grotesque level of violence, with blood and brains on every wall and knives slowly entering eyeballs, the staging needs to be nearly perfect, or it’s only horrifying, and eventually numbing.
You’re clearly supposed to enjoy all the murder, and people apparently do, as this is being hailed as an action masterpiece. But I mostly just felt sad. Sad at celebrating such cruelty — and this is cruel.
I’m not immune: I got a rush from the first John Wick, though that makes me sad, too. And I’m not against violence in movies; I genuinely love those John Woo films. But the violence needs to have either impeccable craft or an actual purpose. John Wick 3 has neither — only blood and pain and death.