You have no idea what’s coming, do you?… You stabbed the devil in the back… Forced him back into the life he had just left. You incinerated the priest’s temple… Burned it to the ground. Now, he’s free of the marker. What do you think he’ll do?
–Winston, John Wick: Chapter 2
After a two year absence and an hour grace period, the Baba Yaga, John Wick, has struck again, roaring back into theaters with the epic conclusion to the John Wick saga, Parabellum. If you’ve seen the film (or read my review), you know that it’s a complete blast from beginning to end, full of amazing action, mind-blowing stunts, and enough twists and turns to keep you locked in until the credits. And now, after two adrenaline-fueled hours of knives, horses, ninjas, and, in the words of Mr. Wick himself: “guns…lots of guns,” we have got to talk about that ending.
That, my friends, is a concrete and fair SPOILER WARNING for John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. Maybe you’re here because you don’t care about spoilers, and if you don’t, that’s fine. But, if you haven’t seen the film yet, do yourself a favor and go do so. It’s amazing. Then, read my review if you’re so inclined. I’ll put it right here for ya. THEN, come back and talk spoilers with us. Cool? Cool. To buy you some time, I’ll insert John’s pencil kill from Chapter 2. Go go go!
Still here? Awesome, let’s talk spoilers.
All of you who’ve seen the film know that I more or less lied to everyone up there in my opening, because this film is not the conclusion to a trilogy, but rather the bridge into John Wick: Chapter 4. We’ll get to how this movie sets up for what has all the potential to be a hellacious sequel in a moment. First, we need to do a little backtracking.
Around the middle of the film, John, still on the run, travels to Morocco to enlist the help of Sofia. After one of the most insane action sequences these eyes have ever witnessed, John then appears before The Elder, the man who is apparently even above the High Table. The Elder tells John that he is willing to pardon the Excommunicado, so long as John agrees to live the rest of his days as a hitman and servant of the High Table.
John must also agree to prove his loyalty to the High Table by turning on his friends and killing Winston for his defiance of the Table. (There’s also something in there about John’s ring finger, but I don’t really wanna have to get into that again. You know what happened.)
John, revitalized after his meeting with The Elder, fights off a number of assassins back in New York, and even has an altercation with Zero before the two reach the New York Continental. Just as Zero is about to kill John, he is reminded by Charon that despite John’s Excommunicado, killing anyone on Continental grounds is still forbidden. John, Excommunicado or not, is still technically a man, and therefore cannot be killed on company grounds.
After a rather awkward and one-sided exchange with Zero, John goes to meet Winston and the two discuss what they want their respective legacies to be. John comes to realize that he would rather die the Baba Yaga then live as nothing more than a servant. He rejects The Elder’s offer to the Adjudicator, sealing his fate to die as Excommunicado. With John and Winston back on the High Table’s hit list, the Adjudicator makes a call to officially deconsecrate the New York Continental, and the building becomes the official stomping grounds for an all-out war between the Continental and the High Table.
A considerable number of soldiers are immediately sent to the building to wipe out John and the remaining occupants, but the Continental isn’t going down without a fight. John and co. clash with the heavily armed thugs, even taking out many of the Table’s forces, but after the dust settles, it’s down to just John and Charon. The two diverge, with Charon going back to the weapons vault to look after Winston, and John going to finish Zero and his thugs.
After a long and grueling fight, John eventually manages to take out Zero and his posse right around the time that the Adjudicator and Winston/Charon agree to a parlay (or, a truce). The four meet on the roof and Winston manages to earn back the trust of the High Table by pointing out the building’s previous show of strength. When the Adjudicator asks what to do about John, Winston shoots John, who falls off the side of the building and plummets to the concrete below. John’s body is recovered and taken to the Bowery King who is somehow alive after 7 sword slashes to the chest. He pokes at John’s body for a moment, and we then discover that John is also alive, and now out for revenge.
Winston, you’ve officially stabbed the devil in the back, and now, he’s coming.
Now, I’ve seen the film twice, and like Chapter 2, I wasn’t crazy about the ending the first time around. Upon a first viewing, both endings seemed pretty out of place, like they were screeching halts bringing the movies to sudden and unexpected ends. Parabellum’s conclusion felt especially jarring due to the fact that so much happened in the two hours prior, yet it was so well-balanced tonally and narratively that it didn’t feel as though a conclusion was on the horizon anytime soon. I truly wanted the film to go on for what might’ve felt like another hour.
Furthermore, some of you may remember in my review that I had said–well, let’s flashback to the review:
The film, while very narratively sound, also asks you to take quite a leap of faith toward the end. The ending, upon a first viewing of the film, is rather jarring, and will most likely polarize audiences depending on the number of times you’ve seen the film, as well as your overall investment in this franchise as a whole.
This narrative “leap of faith” essentially refers to the fact that Parabellum’s ending feels more like the shift into the third act of a larger, John Wick conclusion film. And the ending, while initially jarring, must be trusted and accepted with the faith in mind that there will be huge payoff and conclusion in Chapter 4. Again, I’ve seen the film twice, and I’ve grown to accept/enjoy the ending (because sometimes, you can’t let a polarizing ending diminish a brilliant two hours prior) and am ultimately interested to see where John finds himself on the heels of a wild and unexpected double cross.
So, with the pieces in motion for an epic and chaotic finale to the John Wick saga, there still exists one question that, even after two viewings, Parabellum doesn’t really answer:
Was Winston in on the double cross, or did he really betray John to save himself?
My brother and I spent the full 90-minute ride home from the screening debating whether or not Winston’s actions are part of a larger plan, or if he really turned his back on his friend and surrogate son. There’s a legitimate argument to be had for both, as John took a few bullets just before falling 30 or so stories, hitting scaffolding and fire escapes Looney Tunes style on the way down. John has proven time and time again that he’s no easy man to kill, but he’s also not immortal. If there’s any way to possibly kill someone like John, that’s the way to do it.
Conversely, however, after the Tick-Tock Man recovers John’s body in the alleyway, and the Adjudicator informs Winston that Wick is gone/alive in some capacity, Winston doesn’t at all seem the slightest bit concerned. He seems almost dryly content, as if his poker face is masking the successful progression for a Trojan horse-style sabotage of the High Table come Chapter 4. Maybe it’s just the expert nuance in McShane’s performance, but Winston doesn’t seem at all alarmed that he quite literally stabbed (or shot, rather) the boogeyman in the back, and now, he’s made himself said boogeyman’s next target. Plus, Winston has proven more than once to always be three steps ahead, as well as have a secret hatred for the High Table’s foot constantly on his neck. There’s really no telling where Winston, Charon, and the rest of the Continental will be when John goes to war with the High Table.
Regardless of Winston’s heel turn or John’s target, there’s no denying that the epic groundwork for Chapter 4 has been officially laid out. Chapter 4, slated to drop May 2021, will hopefully include all the payoff that this trilogy has built over the past five years, and will finally solidify the John Wick saga as one of the best in the history of action cinema. Two years may be a hefty wait, but with all-out war brimming on the horizon, know that the Baba Yaga is soon coming again–and this time, he’s coming to burn it all down.
This editorial and its content were edited by Kayla Randolph, Chief Editor at Reel Thoughts.