Keanu Reeves back at it in 'John Wick: Chapter 3'

Actor has found new life as action star with entertaining revenge saga

Keanu Reeves returns for "John Wick" Chapter 3 - Parabellum."
Keanu Reeves returns for "John Wick" Chapter 3 - Parabellum." (Niko Tavernise/Lionsgate)

Back in 2014, many would have agreed that Keanu Reeves' star was on a long, slow fade with a stream of forgettable movies. But that year he decided to go with a script called "Scorn," written by a guy named Derek Kolstad, whose major credits were a couple of movies for Dolph Lundgren.

The new film would be co-directed by two first-time directors -- Chad Stahelski and David Leitch -- former stuntmen who worked their way up to stunt coordinators and second-unit directors. Both had a history with Reeves, with Stahelski serving as his stunt double for "The Matrix." The actor chimed in with a suggestion: change the movie's title to the name of the main character -- John Wick, who was named after the screenwriter's grandfather.

The result was a surprisingly entertaining revenge story about a former assassin who goes after the mob after they kill his dog and steal his car. This incredibly violent film featured highly orginal and intricately choreographed action scenes that raised the bar for this genre. Audiences loved it, with "John Wick" earning $130 million worldwide.

The second film did even better: $180 million, which naturally led to a third installment: "John Wick: Chapter 3 -- Parabellum." ("Parabellum" comes from a longer Latin quote that loosely translated states, "If you want peace, prepare for war." And, yes, that means there will be lots of firepower.) 

The story begins immediately after the end of the last movie, with Wick being pursued in New York by multiple assassins. There's a $14 million bounty on his head for killig a member of the "High Table" criminal guild inside the off-limits Continental Hotel. (Still elegantly managed by the returning Ian McShane, with Lance Rennick also back as the always-helpful concierge Charon.)

The action quickly kicks off with an impressive closed-quarters fight scene inside a library where books are used in painful ways the authors never could have imagined. Director Chad Stahelski (back again for his third "John Wick" film) quickly follows that sequence with a second, equally-strong fight inside a New York stable which the clever utilization of horses as weapons.

With the budgets of these movies increasing, the filmmakers were  able to get some notable actors in supporting roles. Oscar winner Anjelica Huston is wonderfully standoffish as an elegant woman called the Director, who runs a kind-of training school for both ballet dancers and future assassins. Her interesting outfit features a high collar that makes the ensemble look like Dracula's cape, a perfect touch for an intimidating woman.

Fellow Oscar winner Halle Berry also has a relatively short but memorable part as a fellow assassin whom Wick seeks help from in Morocco. The 52-year Berry and 54-year-old Reeves prove they can still hold their own in a lengthy fight scene that impressively incorporates Berry's two German shepherds as very able combatants.

The movie does feature a number of villains, chief among them  Asia Kate Dillon ("Billions" and "Orange is the New Black") as the Adjudicator, a person who is determined to make anyone who breaks the rules of  the "High Table" pay a price. There's also the refreshing Mark Dacascos ("Iron Chef America" and "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.") as Zero, a brutal killer who balances that with being a bit of a gushing fanboy towards his target -- John Wick.

The film runs a lengthy 2:10, which means returning screenwriter Derek Kolstad (along with co-writers Chris Collins, Shay Haten and Marc Abrams) needed to fill that time with enough interesting scenes.  Unfortunately, the action starts to feel repetitive toward the end. I lost count of how many times Wick shoots someone in the head with a resulting red mist of blood. This film franchise became successful by being original and needs to be careful not to keep relying on the same bag of tricks.

The movie does deliver on a number of levels: plenty of action, beautiully shot, and some interestng characters. With the door wide open for "John Wick 4," the filmmakers will just to remember to keep it fresh.

3 ½ stars out of 5
Rated R