Updated: Mar 11
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
John Wick - played by Keanu Reeves - takes on bounty hunters. Not that he has any other choice when the High Table pronounces him Excummunicado and puts a $14 million bounty on his head.
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“JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2019; R for pervasive strong violence, and some profanity; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime (4K), Apple TV (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “Parabellum: Legacy of The High Table”
CAN THINGS get any worse for John Wick? Apparently so in the latest neo-noir installment directed by former stunt man Chad Stahelski starring Keanu Reeves as a – so far – unstoppable hitman.
To recap: John Wick, a legendary assassin for the High Table, an international cartel of crime lords that rules the underworld, has retired. Known as Baba Yaga, the boogeyman, he earned a reputation as a near mystical killer. He retired to marry the love of his life, and would have continued to remain out of the game even after Helen dies from cancer. But a young Russian gangster gets in the way, stealing John’s prized 1969 Mustang and killing the puppy she gave him.
At this point, the audience is with John. That arrogant punk must pay! And pay he does, along with dozens and dozens of outlaws that try to stop him. There’s no doubt about it, Baba Yaga is back.
Those of the High Table are cautiously willing to live with it as long as John follows the rules, which are plenty. The penalty for breaking them, death. John takes refuge at The Continental in New York City. “Each of the major cities in the world has a Continental hotel, basically a safe-zone for all criminals where they come to meet, have a drink, and link into a service in a certain environment. You can buy guns and bullet-proof suits, and hook up with different messages and information and intelligence,” Stahelski explains.
The lavish NYC establishment is managed by Winston, played by the chameleon of charm, Ian McShane. He runs it with the help of his trusty and equally sinister concierge, Charon brought to life by the incomparable Lance Reddick. If Winston is the representative Hades, Charon is the man who ferries killers from one port to the next, seeing to their every need for a gold coin. The one unbreakable rule is that no killing-business be conducted within The Continental’s sacred bounds.
(1) The Administration handles all business under the Table, managing records and personnel files; recording and posting rewards for kills, and sending assassins. The Operator (Margaret Daily) processes John's Excummunicado when Winston calls at the end of "John Wick: Chapter 2." (2) Winston (Ian McShane) and Charon (Lance Reddick) confer at The Continental in NYC. (3) John must find a safe place for Dog while he's on the run. He leaves him in Charon's care. (4&5) John runs to The Library, which appears to be a normal library. It's actually a safe storehouse for personal effects, like the photo of John's wife Helen, gold coins, markers and tickets.
By the end of Chapter 2, we meet the series’ other big player, The Bowery King played by Reeves’ old friend, Laurence Fishburne of “The Matrix” films. The King is only marginally part of the High-Table, ruling a freelance operation of NYC’s homeless population. These are not simple vagrants; they are part of a vast network of thieves, killers and information brokers.
“I am all that you deign not to look at when you walk down the street at night.” The Bowery King/Laurence Fishburne
The mystery surrounding John’s world continues to grow. It was a surprise to all involved in the first film. “Everyone has their own code, their own sense of honor,” Stahelski says in the extras. The audience wants to know where he’s from, “what does he do, where was he trained, where’s the tattoo from, where did he get the skills he has … is he Russian, is he a Marine, is he a hired assassin, is he special forces?”
John Wick has a complicated relationship with ALL of them. Then he tips the cart at the end of Chapter 2 by killing a villain on The Continental’s grounds. He is judged Excommunicado, which is a death sentence. Anyone who helps John also risks death. Winston says it all: “With a $14 million bounty on his head, every interested party in the city wants a piece of it.”
That’s where we find John at the start of “Chapter 3 – Parabellum.” Wounded and on the run, he calls in old “markers” to survive. Snobby, rule-sticking despots that they are, the High Table sends its razor-keen Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) to discipline John’s friends.
(1) An assassin challenges John. (2&3) John attempts an escape through the Library's other rooms. This one stores and displays antique weapons. (4) Wounded, John uses his last free minutes to visit a black-market doctor, who treats injuries for criminals. He's played by Randall Duk Kim, who also played the Keymaker in "The Matrix." The Doctor has John shoot him afterward, hoping to avoid retribution from the High-Table.
“Because we were dealing with rules and fealty, we thought fealty could be connected to the High-Table. The Adjudicator was a character that could address breaking the rules.” — Keanu Reeves/”John Wick”
Winston is to be removed from The Continental on pain of death; except he and Charon have other plans. (This is Ian McShane. No one tells him what to do.) The Bowery King is chastised with seven slashes across his body, and many of his crew are killed.
“We always talk about the curse of the sequel. You try to do something very original, that’s why people like it; it’s different. By the very nature of doing a sequel, it can’t be as original as the original.” — Chad Stahelski, director
“Parabellum,” a Latin word for “going to war,” goes deeper into John’s background. What Chapter 3 brings is another bloodbath and creative, ouch-inspiring chase scenes and martial arts action – much to the score of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Classy. Bloody, but classy. Halle Berry is introduced as Sofia Al-Azwar. Like John, she’s another dog enthusiast; she’s also manager of The Moroccan Continental. Anjelica Huston becomes The Director, manager of a young corps de ballet in training to be deadly. Both women share a loaded past with John.
“One of the most important things with mythology is the talisman, a special charm … that’s used either to gain access internally or externally. A key to enter somewhere or a clue to follow, whether it’s gold coins or another two-head marker… Here we call them ‘tickets.’” — Chad Stahelski, director
To live, John must reach The Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui), the only one above the High Table who can give him the absolution he needs. To find him, John will go to the ends of the earth. Still, the real battle is within John Wick himself – will he find the forgiveness that allows him to live as a hired killer, or die as the man his wife believed him to be?
(1) John finds a cooperative horse to help him escape. (2) John brings his "ticket" to The Director (Anjelica Huston) of the Ruska Roma, an organization of Russian gypsies who train children as assassins. John was raised by them under his birth name, Jardani Jovonovich. He demands she get him to Casablanca. (3) She agrees, but John's ticket is cancelled. He can never return home again. (4&5) The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) arrives to enforce the laws of the High Table. She confronts Winston and The Bowery King demanding payback for helping John.
Filmed on location in New York, Morocco, and the Western Sahara, “John Wick: Chapter 3” becomes a 131-minute excursion into smash and gore on 1080p and 2160p (2.39:1 aspect ratio) from Lionsgate. It was digitally filmed in 3.2K with Arri Alexa cameras, processed to a 2K intermediate, and upgraded to Ultra 4K. The fight and chase scenes lend themselves to lots of seamless CGI, which makes 2K the affordable choice.
What we get is a pristine picture using HDR10 & Dolby Vision, with high contrast between deep, stygian blacks and dazzling whites. It’s most noticeable during a freeway chase scene with John riding horseback pursued by motorcycles, and in a glass-walled weapons and armor level in The Continental, where myriad reflective surfaces showcase the fight between John and several martial arts professionals. Everyone is dressed in black, and there are katana, daggers and shurikens galore. Glass breaks everywhere.
Color, when it appears, is vivid, almost primary: reds, gold, orange and teal. Yet natural tones are seen in complexions and real environments, such as the skyline on The Bowery King’s rooftop. Depth perception is good throughout, whether found in a golden desert, freeway chase, or deep within The Continental’s rooms and hallways. Detail is consistently sharp in every frame.
The Ultra 4K delivers the sharpest picture with the best, nuanced color toning, but the 1080p is nothing to sneeze at. It is solid and engaging. Both discs look and sound very good within their individual format.
“John Wick” films aren’t known for dazzling dialogue – except between Winston and whomever he’s elegantly chiding. (He’s the polar opposite of Al Swearengen in HBO’s “Deadwood.” Nary a single expletive leaves his lips. He doesn’t need them.)
Effects are remarkable, with height speakers delivering a demo-worthy Dolby Atmos track on both discs. Softer environmental sound is heard in areas such as the desert scenes, and quieter moments, like the “click” of a coin on Charon’s front desk. But bass range shows modulations in the fight and chase scenes. Bullets punch and ricochet at ceiling level; knives slice, and axes … well, they kinda crunch. Effects from the galloping horse, dogs, bikes, jeeps and assassins flow throughout the room. What really sets it apart is the splendid balance of spoken word, effects and score.
In addition to Vivaldi, Tyler Bates, who composed music for “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Watchmen” and “Deadpool 2,” and Joel J. Richard wrote the original score.
(1) The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburn). (2) John runs into a spot of trouble as he makes his way to the Moroccan Continental. (3) John holds the marker of Continental manager Sofia Al-Azwar (Halle Berry). He demands her help in reaching The Mint, where The High Table's gold coins originate. He hopes to discover the whereabouts of The Elder, the man above The Table and the only one who can cancel the bounty on his head. (4) The Mint is managed by Berrada (Jerome Flynn of "Game of Thrones"), former manager of The Moroccan Continental. He demands one of Sofia's dogs as payment for allowing the meeting.
There are 10 bonus features ranging from 5 to 11 minutes long. They entertain, providing making-of information and interviews with cast and filmmakers. “Parabellum: Legacy of The High Table” highlights themes and development of “Chapter 3”; “Excommunicado” delves into John Wick’s death sentence; “Check Your Sights” explores stunt and fight choreography; “Continental in the Desert” looks at the Moroccan locations; “Dog Fu” examines the fight scene with Sofia’s dogs; “Bikes, Blades, Bridges and Bits” offers more behind-scenes footage on fights and stunts; “Behind the Scenes of ‘John Wick Hex’” explores the video game, and “Saddle up Wick” goes into the horse action sequence.
Keanu Reeves is the most fun in watching the bonus features; he is having such a great time with this role. His attitude is infectious.
“So you’ve got a couple of choices [making a sequel]. You can try to blow more s**t up and have bigger space ships and bigger monsters, or you expand. That’s what we try to do with ‘John Wick.’ Just bring more depth to who he is, what his world entails and how we show that through his own personal journey.” — Chad Stahelski, director
When all’s said and on the screen, “John Wick: Chapter 3” isn’t a film you can jump into without having seen the first two. What Stahelski, Reeves and recurring cast members are making is an epic. But it is easy to catch up – and if a heroic quest with action and mysticism is your cup of tea, go for it!
— Kay Reynolds
(1) John is left on his own in the Sahara to find The Elder. (2) John pledges fealty to The Elder: "I have served. I will be of service." All is forgiven, but John must make penance by killing Winston. (3&4) Back in NYC, Zero and his men, deployed by The Adjudicator, attempt to take John down. He makes it to The Continental.
(1) Winston won't give up without a fight. He convinces John to help him: "Do you want to be known as a killer, or as a man who loved and was loved by his wife?" (2-5) As punishment, The Adjudicator deconsecrates The Continental. No longer neutral territory, it becomes a battleground. John confronts Zero and his highly trained assassins on the hotel's glass level.