Spencer Smith ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
The original John Wick was one of the biggest surprises not just of 2014 but of the modern action movie world. It was a slick, garish film starring one of the best action stars alive that drew influences from anime, neo-noir, Hong Kong action flicks, and Spaghetti Westerns. It had a star who, much like his character, was somewhat out of the game despite his talent at making kicking the s*** out of people look cool and came back into the game with fury. He was surrounded by a number of established, wonderful character actors playing old, almost mythic figures in a story that was nearly not even worth his time. It was like after the myths came an inconsequential story about a retired hitman avenging his car and beloved (and arguably cutest ever) Beagle puppy. In other words, John Wick was goddamn awesome!
Now, star Keanu Reeves and director/screenwriter Chad Stahelski have returned to give the now semi-famous John Wick a grand follow up. John Wick: Chapter 2 has finally been released into the waters of eager Wick fans. If the first John Wick was like the Titans being dragged out to do something beneath themselves, John Wick 2 is trying to finally give Mr. Wick a run for his money. Set within a year after John Wick lashes out against the Russian Mob, he’s forced back into the world of fancy hotels, fancy assassin’s gear, and not-so fancy brutal action. John Wick 2 plunges us into the underground world of John Wick in full force, to show us all the possibilities that were hinted at in the first film. In many ways the film succeeds.
The remarkable world building of the first film has paid off for it’s follow-up. In John Wick 2, we see everything that John Wick was said to be capable of before. We see his assassination planning and execution, his indomitable will push him through the impossible, and yet again, him having to deal with an attention-seeking brat. The sequel is remarkable in the sense that rather than trying to simply copy the first film, it uses its bigger budget to attempt to do everything that the first film couldn’t. The story even manages to get our main protagonist to Rome and give him even more bad guys to get in his way.
The now-famous video of Keanu Reeves in a shooting range, displaying an insane amount of gun handling skills, shows that his training has paid off. The stunt work is back in full force with every single fighter in the film doing some truly jaw dropping stunts, which make way for some wonderful gun and fist fights. The biggest highlights from the stunt work are Common’s Cassian and Ruby Rose’s Ares. Cassian and Wick have possibly the two best battles in the entire film where they first fight in Rome which then leads to some amazing fist fights in New York. Ares equals Cassian’s fighting strength against Wick particularly near the end of the film. What is surprising about John Wick 2– the same surprise as it’s predecessor- is that it continues a good narrative while maintaining strong choreographed fight scenes.
While John Wick doesn’t necessarily have a complex or groundbreaking plot, it’s surprising how both these films have some surprisingly strong narrative and world-building chops. John Wick 2 builds on the story as well as the world. The stakes are raised, the journey is unexpected but cohesive, and nearly everything in the film is set up and paid off well. It’s a film in which it’s style doesn’t drown it’s substance but rather where the style and substance are weaved into each other. It uses the characters to explore the environment; the environment is what drives the conflict in the movie. The secret world of assassin’s organizations, gods-among-men commanding the scene, and one unstoppable force of violence trying to be controlled by men who think they can join these God-like figures (aka Ian McShane). The acting also continues the tradition of having amazing character actors help flesh out the world, and any sequel that knows more Ian McShane means more quality acting clearly knows what it’s doing.
Yet for all of John Wick 2’s successes, it doesn’t quite reach the same level as it’s predecessor. Namely, the action cinematography and camera direction which were absolutely stellar in the first film, are surprisingly a bit lost. By the third act, the film’s cinematography redeems itself, but in the first 2/3rds of the film the action is shot in the typical shaky-cam style. It’s not a total lose because it’s clear that the stunts are expertly choreographed and thus the camera doesn’t feel like it’s cheating the audience. However, it simply feels beneath the film to cut around the action. The prologue in particular has a car sequence in which certain points show no relation between Wick and his opponents. Enemies suddenly burst out of no where to attack him from off screen. This continues into the later action sequences which are cut in a way where Wick kills unseen bad guys ff-screen. It is certainly beneath the crew of the film to entertain in such a lack-luster fashion considering some of the industry’s best were on set; it becomes distracting when the first film practiced the complete opposite.
If John Wick 2 were a stand-alone film, it would still be one of the most-fun spectacles in years to touch the big screen. John Wick 2 is the kind of sequel that a franchise should be proud of, even if it might be a bit flabbier and less surprising. It’s a movie that doesn’t play it safe by reaches for the stars. Sure, it might falter a bit in mid-flight, but overall, John Wick: Chapter 2 soars like a winged pegasus wearing a bulletproof, two-button suit that knows ‘Gun Fu.’
Overall Grade: B
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