Tactical, Visceral, Action
A Film Review of John Wick: Chapter 2
Keanu Reeves is back and he’s here to stay. I never had the opportunity to see the first John Wick film in the theatres, but have since seen it on Blu Ray and praised it to everyone I see as being a breath of fresh air for the action genre of Hollywood filmmaking. John Wick is not about epic set pieces, explosion tornadoes, excessive CG or gravity defying stunt work, but about getting into the close up, grappling action of people trying to kill each other with extreme prejudice and squeezing every bit of adrenaline out of each and every one of these moments. Director Chad Stahelski ensured that Chapter 2 retained all of his first film’s precise action cinematography and built upon that solid foundation with new locations, set designs and a few unexpected cameos. The John Wick sequel is unashamed of its relentless violence and flimsy story, but what keeps it from crossing the line into “gore porn” is tri-fold: 1) The combat choreography is some of the best (if not better) since Captain America: The Winter Soldier. 2) The artistry required to capture said choreography on film is no small feat. 3) There is a significant element of class infused in the performance of every character both headlining and supporting.
I am one of the last critics to argue for “less” when it comes to the story element of Hollywood films, but “too much” can muddle an otherwise good thing especially when a movie prefers to show rather than tell. John Wick is a simple revenge story and Chapter 2 is basically an extension of that along with a logistic bridge from the previous film to explain why John is “working again.” Although the audience doesn’t need a more developed plot than that to enjoy this sequel, if there are plans for John Wick: Chapter 3, there better be more character development for the titular character so as to avoid turning it into the Die Hard franchise. Assassins, like the weapons they wield, are tools used to further the agenda of the rich and powerful, but their services are independently contracted as agreed upon by the operators/mechanics that take the jobs. This seems like a fairly easy life to walk away from unless of course, the services of the so-called boogeyman are more than contractually obligated which is a plot device Chapter 2 introduces, but doesn’t really explain. The circumstances of this film’s climax and dénouement will demand a story much more involved than “a man addicted to violence and using it to achieve peace.”
We start off with a healthy dose of car chases and vehicular combat and jump immediately into the heavy ordinance, plenty of gun-fu mixed with unarmed martial arts as well as a steady supply of knife fighting. With so much attention to gun reloads and Wick checking himself for compiling injury, this movie just about has it all.
The director’s experience as a stunt performer taught him a thing or two about the importance of camera placement for action sequences and cinematographer Dan Laustsen kept an active frame following every instant of Wick’s action, thus requiring fewer cuts in the overall flow of the action.
Keanu Reeves is a serviceable leading man in just about anything, but he certainly shows proficiency for action films. At 52 years of age, Mr. Reeves is in shape and dedicated to the genre’s physical demands. Unfortunately, he does tend deliver certain lines awkwardly in moments of key drama. Vaya con Dios, Bodhi. Vaya con Dios.
Ian McShane and Lance Reddick continue to be class personified as character actors while Common continues to build his non-music industry resume in the entertainment industry with sincere intensity. Ruby Rose as the mute Ares seems to have taken a couple acting classes after her time in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. Laurence Fishburne is here. Yay! Now, why is Morpheus important to this story?
With so many Matrix Easter eggs throughout this film, it would have been nice to have a little more variety than Euro club techno.
Vehicles like super cars and motorcycles sound crisp and ferocious and there’s noticeable difference between long barrel rifles, handguns and heavier guns. Impact sounds from all firearms are distinct deliver major impact.
“Moving” = 23/33
Digital blood squibs have gotten a bad rap thanks to their poor application in more recent action franchises like The Expendables. Chapter 2 uses them extensively as well, but this film’s low lighting combined with practical blood splatter on scenery and costumes masks its cartoonish presentation well enough. I found some of the bullet deflection sparks of Wick’s bullet proof suit to be a tad distracting though.
Much better job here with all of the ballistics, pyro and close up gore effects. These effects do a fine job selling the unbridled brutality of every encounter.
Very nice suits, elegant dresses, but certainly nothing out of the ordinary for depicting a whole lot of wealthy people, some of whom know how to kill. Very average overall.
Hair & Makeup
Good continuity being maintained by depicting Wick’s ever increasing injury tally. Everyone else dies too quickly for this to matter for their characters.
Aside from the car chases in the beginning of the film (which were at night with nothing else standing out in the background), exterior shots were really relegated to establishing shots and not really used for much else.
Budgetary upgrades were used here as evidenced in multiple Continental locales as well as the film’s climactic battle within an insanely well funded art installation.
“Picture” = 20/33
John Wick had one last thing to wrap up from the first film and then he’s retired again, but wait, a plot device keeps him in. Does he really want to leave the violence because it seems there’s more choice here than he lets on.
For John Wick, conflict is with virtually everyone, but most importantly with himself. His solitary moments are meant to show him struggling with this life, but it always references his dead wife which strictly redirects to his grief. The film could have done a better job showing this struggle because he jumps into ultra violence far too quickly and easily to be turned off by it.
This was actually kind of surprising considering the rules laid out in the first film and reestablished in Chapter 2. What isn’t surprising is the obvious lead in to a third film that the audience doesn’t really need, but would be interesting to see where it goes.
In this cloak and dagger fiction, speaking in innuendo is all but assumed and sometimes this stylized method of dialogue can lose an audience. Not so in this film as it comes off as sophisticated and explicit so long as you are paying attention. My favorite dialogue sequence is Wick’s weapon selection “tasting” at The Continental.
Another film where the cryptic boogeyman is known and feared in the criminal underworld because of his past, yet the audience’s only reference point is the tragedy of his recent past. Diving further back would have added much needed depth to a charismatic character.
Only Wick and Winston happen to be the only characters in this film that are more than simple stone faced killers. They reveal themselves as more with their demeanor, manners and intelligence. Every other character is a trope on criminals and evil masterminds.
Everyone can connect with the visceral desire for revenge. It may not inspire murder as an appropriate response in every instance, but when we feel wronged by such a degree, the need to lash back rises up like a storm. Everyone keeps trying to dominate John Wick and he simply isn’t having any of it. In this regard, Wick is an everyman for most feel they don’t have as much say in our own destinies as the circumstances of the world have them somewhat dictated to us.
“Story” = 20/34
Overall MPS Rating: 63/100
John Wick: Chapter 2 isn’t mindless fun as it requires a modicum of attention span to appreciate it beyond the head shots and body count, but it also happens to be fairly light on story beyond head shots and body count. The budget for this film is still listed as N/A on boxofficemojo.com, but you can tell this production had much more than $20 million dollars to play with. More money means increased production value and a higher entertainment factor. Action and brutal violence continues to be this franchise’s strong suits, but simply maintaining its current course for additional sequels will get old and boring very fast. You won’t see a better action film prior to the release of any of the summer blockbusters so get your bloody delights in early to ride out this mitigated winter.