John Wick 3 - Parabellum: Everything You Need to Know Before Watching

It's time to catch up on one of the best modern action franchises.

When John Wick burst onto cinema screens in 2014, guns blazing and seeking revenge, it was a hit at both the box office and with critics. Its 2017 sequel, John Wick Chapter 2, earned even more money.

But as the third chapter hits theaters on May 17, we're guessing some people might be either curious about the films that brought Keanu Reeves back into the limelight, or just need a refresher, so I've put together a guide for everything you need to know before you see John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum.

What happens in John Wick 1?

John Wick (Reeves) begins in his franchise as a retired hitman who lives in a world that might look a lot like our own, except for the surprising number of assassins behind every door, in every manhole and lurking in every alleyway.

Everything flips upside-down, though, when Iosef Tarasov, a Russian gangster, is infuriated that Wick won't sell him his 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1, and takes out his anger on Wick by knocking him out — and committing the true unforgivable sin — killing his adorable beagle, Daisy.

Daisy was more than just a cuddly dog, though, she was John's last connection to his wife Helen, who died from a terminal illness. Helen was so important to John that he got out of the murder-for-hire game for her. Oh, and to make matters more complex, he was working for Viggo Tarasov, Iosef's father, at the time, and had to complete an "impossible task" (i.e., a dizzying amount of assassinations due in a short window of time), which is only referenced, and not shown.

This sets Wick off on his path of vengeance. Viggo can't talk our protagonist out of his justified agenda to kill Iosef, and sends a dozen dudes to try to kill Wick — which sends those 12 to an early grave. Only after that does Viggo place a $2 million bounty on Wick's head.

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Next, John arrives at The Continental Hotel in New York City, one of the primary locations of the series, a high-end establishment that caters to the hitman community. Although The Continental is supposed to be a safe space for these contract killers — it's run by Winston (Ian McShane), the kind of mysterious and powerful figure you don't double-cross —  Viggo declares hitmen will earn twice as much for a kill on those premises.

What follows is … well … a lot of killing, and inside The Continental at that, violating one of the two cardinal, unbreakable rules of this underground world of killers. John finds an ally, though, in Marcus (Willem DaFoe), his mentor, who plays guardian angel throughout the film. We also meet Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki), an acquaintance of John's who tries to kill him, but is later killed for — you guessed it — killing while visiting The Continental.

By the end, of course, Wick's killed both Iosef and Viggo, and for his karmic peace, he frees a pitbull scheduled to be euthanized, whom he leaves with.

What happens in John Wick 2?

In John Wick 2, the central idea switches from revenge to the value of an oath, and your word, as John Wick's nemeses change from the Tsarov family (though Viggo's brother, Abram, makes a small appearance early on) to the Italian Mafia, with Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio).

Remember that "impossible task" referenced in John Wick 1? Here, we see that Santino aided Wick in completing said task, but made him take a contract for a future, unbreakable, promise. That promise was in the form of a coin, called a "marker," which for the hitmen of this reality, is a blood oath medallion.

But when Santino demands his marker be fulfilled, and Wick denies him — he's retired now, you helped him retire! — the Italian don whips out a grenade launcher and blasts John's house to smithereens.

This bit of unplanned home renovation brings Wick back to his second home, The Continental. Except this time, Winston isn't so happy to see him. Winston takes Santino's side here, because reneging on a marker is breaking the second unbreakable rule of this secret society of hitmen. Realizing he needs allies, Wick gives in to Santino's request for a hit, which turns out to be the assassination of Gianna D'Antonio (Claudia Gerini), Santino's sister. (She's taking a seat on the High Table of assassins, something her brother wants for himself.)

After Wick travels to Rome to break into Gianna's big party, Gianna tries to stop him from getting the kill by ending her own life, slitting her wrists before he can pull the trigger. Continuing the Wick films' series of karmic care, John shoots her in the head before she actually dies, both to protect her from eternal damnation (the two talk about this issue before she kills herself) — and to make sure he gets the credit for her death.

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Of course, though, that doesn't matter to Santino, who sends his goons to kill John Wick, so he can't be connected to the death of his sister, and risk his seat on the High Table. While Wick kills or evades most of them, Gianna's top bodyguard, Cassian (Common), keeps on John's tail until the two find themselves inside Rome's Continental Hotel, where — again, you guessed it — you can't kill.

So, both make it out of Rome's Continental alive and return to New York, where the fight has higher stakes, as Santino's put a $7 million contract out fon John Wick. In a series of hilarious fights in broad daylight — New Yorkers are completely oblivious to everything — the two tussle again, though Wick doesn't kill Cassian, out of respect, when he has the opportunity.

Nearly dead from his fights with Cassian and every hitman walking NYC, Wick seeks out The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne, reuniting with Reeves, his Matrix co-star), an even-more underground boss, whose staff cleans John up and gives him directions to Santino.

And while John confronts the man looking to kill him, their battle moves from location to location until they arrive at The Continental. Wick, tired of playing by the rules, kills Santino in the lounge of the esteemed establishment.

Winston, who tried to stop the murder from happening at the hotel, is unable to protect John from the consequences of his actions. He then warns the hitman that the price on his head remains, even though Santino's dead, and that the High Table group has not only doubled the bounty, but declared it available around the world, giving John no safe haven.

The film ends in a setup to John Wick 3. Winston gives Wick a 1-hour head start — the new contract and excommunication from Continental hotels haven't been announced yet — and a new marker, as a sort of hitman's care package.

What is the plot for John Wick 3?

In short? John Wick needs to escape from New York, and everyone's out to stop him. Oh, and since that contract on his head is set for the whole of Earth, there's nowhere to hide.

What does Parabellum mean?

The full title of the film, John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum, includes a word that many of us have never heard of. In an interview with, Reeves translated the word to "Prepare for war," before saying, "It’s part of that famous sentence, 'Si vis pacem, para bellum,' which translates as, 'If you want peace, prepare for war,'" suggesting that John Wick won't be free until a lot of blood has been shed.

Who's in John Wick 3?

Aside from Keanu Reeves himself, fresh off of getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, we know of three assassins in the film: Sofia (Halle Berry) is a friend of John's, who looks to be helping him; Tick Tock Man (The League's Jason Mantzoukas) , who's more of a mystery; and Zero (Mark Dacascos), who looks to be the main hitman out to snuff out John's wick of mortality.

Wick's biggest ally in this film will likely be The Director (Anjelica Huston) whose connection to the High Table is questionable and likely jeopardized as she seeks to protect our dog-helping hitman.

Returning to the series are Winston, The Bowery King, and Charon (Lance Reddick), the concierge at the Continental hotels.

How much is a coin worth in John Wick?

While many people dismiss change and leave it in a "take a penny, leave a penny" tray, the coins of John Wick's world are the only currency. Though you shouldn't confuse the smaller tokens with the larger ones — also called markers — that open up, which are good for one free demand from the issuer. John starts off the third film with a marker in hand, and will likely need it as the world's assassins hunt him down.

Is there a trailer for John Wick 3?

I thought you'd never ask!

Will there be a John Wick 4?

I'm already a little spoiled on this, and I'm trying to keep the full details away from me, but the ending of John Wick 3 reportedly sets up a fourth film. Also, during an AMA, director Chad Stahleski told redditors that a fourth chapter is possible, provided that the demand (box-office success) is also there.

Credit: Niko Tavernise

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.