[INTERVIEW] The resonant themes in ‘JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM’ hint at what’s next

Keanu Reeves fends off foes in JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM. Courtesy of Lionsgate.

Courtney Howard // Film Critic

The JOHN WICK franchise has always been rich with themes, character-drive, world-building and inspired aesthetics. It’s the bedrock foundation from which it was formed. Far from being a “brainless actioner” and not about vapid violence, it’s transcended the genre into high-caliber entertainment.

While the first film is a haunting metaphor and cautionary tale about what happens when one gives into unrelenting grief, and the follow-up feature spotlights the onslaught of grief’s consequences, it’s JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM that combines both sentiments into a combustible force. Showing the effects that grief can take on a person over time is what was key to character development this time around.  

Director Chad Stahelski, whom I spoke with over the phone, felt that being obvious with his film’s symbolism and dialogue wasn’t something he ever wanted to do.

I go with fable and mythological themes – like fate, time, universe, finality, present, death – and you kind of weave that in. But I found if you weave it in too much, you get yourself boxed in and it falls on deaf ears. If you make it funny and memorable and then in retrospect, you get done laughing and go, “Wow. Holy fuck that meant something!”

Giving the picture a distinct aesthetic also helps augment thematic undertones, he further stated.

I try to layer it in with levity and action and cool moves and pretty colors, so it’s delayed a little bit – and I want that delayed effect.

This third chapter relies on a mutual understanding that our hero has been dealt the short end of the stick because of the life he chose. He continued,

I like that retroactive understanding of things. It seems to sink in best. It’s not just, “I’m going to do this because this is fate.” That just doesn’t sink. But if you realize John’s journey will never be a circular one – it’ll be a linear one, to one end of finality, then you get why consequence is such a thing.

PARABELLUM picks up directly after the events of JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2, which ended on a cliffhanger. So when it came to fashioning and end to their latest feature, it became evident this wasn’t going to be a trilogy, but, in keeping in line with the character-drive, it would be a continuation. Stahelski illuminated,

Look, I didn’t try to make this a cliffhanger – it’s just intrinsically a cliffhanger so there will be a number 4. As a director, I don’t know how to end this any other way. John Wick is never going to run off into the sunset. He’s never going to be okay. He can’t do bad things like he’s done, regardless of what his intentions were, or how much he loved his wife, and get off scot-free. You do bad things, and bad things happen. That’s the whole theme: consequences.

As to what we can expect next from the haunted hitman, Stahelski didn’t say what the exact events of their next film would be, but explained that when it does end, John will not go out without a bang.

At some point, John will expire and it’s not going to be in a peaceful way. He’s not going to find love again. He’s not going to be forgiven by himself, or by others, so where do you go? It’s just like real life. You will have bad days – and John is having a bad fuckin’ day. 


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Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.