Parabellum According to John Wick

john wick
Image from IMDB.com

What happens when you shoot one of the highest ranking members of the High Table in The Continental, in full view of witnesses? You get $14 million worth of bounty on your head and you run through the streets of Manhattan to survive. This is how “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” opens up.

The third series in the anticipated revenge fantasy franchise picks up moments after “John Wick: Chapter 2” left off, when Winston (Ian McShane) puts in a call, classifying the super assassin as ex-communicado. And you know right off the bat you’re in for a good time. Never mind that you may not know what parabellum means.

Is it a region in your brain (like the cerebellum)? Is the movie referring to a weapon, as in the 9mm Luger? Or is parabellum about part of the Latin phrase referring to war and peace?

What Does Parabellum Mean?

The Latin phrase “parabellum” is one part of a military maxim that has been interpreted to mean fortifying defenses during peacetime — to ensure peace. Image from IMDB.com

Latin phrases are all over the John Wick franchise. Audiences first saw this on John Wick’s tattoo, which is inked on his back and features the statement “fortis Fortuna adiuvat” across his upper back. In contrast, “Parabellum” is just one part of a statement.

The sub-title “Parabellum” comes from the Latin phrase “Si vis pacem, para bellum.” It basically means “If you want peace, prepare for war.” It’s also an alternative phrase to: “Qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum,” which translates to “Let him who desires peace prepare for war.” The phrase comes from “De Re Militari” by Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, a Roman general.

The ancient manual of Roman military instructions presents the foundation for military education, a treatise that influenced the tactics of many of the armies in Europe during the Middle Ages. The maxims in the book provide the principles of war, one of which is the John Wick-adapted “parabellum.”

If you’ve seen Chapter 3, you’ll know why the movie is called “Parabellum.”

John is on the defensive for a good part, fighting nearly every second for his life. The interpretation of Vegetius’ maxim took on a literal meaning in the movie; the Roman general crafted it at a time when the Roman Empire’s army wasn’t at its best. Soldiers had grown weak during peacetime, making them vulnerable.

Military experts’ interpretation is similar to Vegetius’, which is: fortification during peacetime over preparation when war is imminent.

In John’s case, with $14 million on his head, war has already broken out. And peace can only be achieved if he survives the action-heavy, otherworldly fight scenes, the relentless stream of bad guys, and the excessive violence in the criminal underworld beyond belief. And he does, probably because John Wick’s back tattoo indicates he’s a little fortunate.

Of course, professional assassin’s rarely rely on fortune alone.

Like every war, alliances are forged to help John come out with as little battle wounds as possible. The super dogs of war who practice parkour are part of his alliance with Sofia (Halle Berry). And the dog-fu fighting Belgian Malinoises are ferocious beasts.

But lethal hounds are only good for certain battles. You’ll still need weapons to win a war.

Parabellum Isn’t Just a Latin Phrase

Austrian weapons designer George Luger created the 9mm Luger pistol, which is also known as the parabellum piston. Image from IMDB.com

In “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum,” audiences see more than John’s weapon of choice (a fucking pencil). Antiques play a big role in one of the more finger-digging fight scenes on cinema, featuring axes, hatchets, tomahawks, spaghetti western handguns . . . the bad guys get killed in so many creative ways and whatever John can get his hands on.

And one of the many, many — many guns John uses in the movie is the TTI STI Combat Master pistol in a 9mm Major. That cartridge is basically a 9mm Luger round loaded to Major, creating high muzzle velocity with a soft shooting cartridge.

The 9mm Luger is also called a parabellum by ballistic pros. It’s a semi-automatic weapon produced in several models, from 1848 to 1948. The Luger was developed by Austrian designer George Luger. If you remember “John Wick: Chapter 2,” the sommelier was singing praises about Austrian handguns, recommending the firearm during John’s “shopping spree” in Italy.

The Austrian designed pistol can be considered a collector’s item; auction houses may even have rare pieces in their inventory. It’s also featured in other action-adventure movies, like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and  ”The Great Escape.”

So in chapter 3 of John Wick as the baba yaga of the underworld, parabellum is a Latin maxim and a weapon. Will “John Wick: Chapter 4” contain another Latin phrase that’ll describe the story in a nutshell? We’ll have to wait in 2022.