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Rating: 4.7/5 (3 votes cast)

 

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2


When making an action sequel, Hollywood tends to take the ‘more is more’ route without necessarily understanding what exactly is it that audiences need more of. So the default approach is to go for bigger, busier, noisier set pieces in an effort to one-up the original. Michael Bay’s “Transformers” franchise is a textbook example. ‘More is more’ is already the man’s mantra to begin with, but the way he’s gone from excess to excess with every subsequent instalment has rendered all but the first one unwatchable.

The problem is that these filmmakers obsess over amplification, when they really should focus on expansion. What’s the difference? Well, ever notice how the best sequels don’t just dish out more of the same, magnified two-fold? There is a genuine effort to take the best parts of the original and develop it from there. So you get to discover more about the world and characters that you loved in the first place. That’s expansion.

That’s what “John Wick: Chapter 2” offers up in spades, and that’s what makes it one of the best action sequels out there.



It certainly wasn’t shy about its ambitions either. The original dropped in out of nowhere and surprised the hell out of everyone. The second time out, there was an actual expectation. And it wasn’t enough to just have bigger, more elaborate action. Not that a movie made by a bunch of former stuntmen was ever going to drop the ball in that regard. So it comes as no surprise that director Chad Stahelski (minus his co-helmer David Leitch this round) has over-delivered. With seemingly effortless aplomb too. The man knew what the stakes were, how high the bar was that he’d set for himself, and he more than met the challenge.

“Chapter 2” is stuffed to the brim with brilliant action, with every set piece designed, choreographed, and executed to a level of polish akin to Hollywood’s best musicals. There’s a fluidity of movement to the fights and gunplay that makes them enthralling to watch. Copious brain-splattering headshots notwithstanding, I wouldn’t hesitate to call the action elegant, even balletic. This is as close as anyone’s ever come to making extreme violence seem classy. I love how much care they’ve put into crafting the look of the film, with night scenes often bathed in colour-coded mood lighting, and visually stunning sets like a trippy hall of mirrors for the climatic showdown. All these elevate the action to something approaching art-film territory.



Stahelski eschews in-fashion techniques like shaky-cam and rapid-fire cutting, rightfully denouncing them as a crutch to hide weak choreography, unprepared actors, or a general lack of know-how and invention. His style might appear fresh to Western eyes, though he’s simply observing what Hong Kong Cinema has been doing for decades, where the camera gives viewers the space and time to really let the performers shine.

Of course, a lot of hard work goes into planning and training in order for the performers to shine. So Stahelski’s greatest asset is actually Keanu Reeves. All the planning in the world by the best stunt choreographers isn’t going to translate if your star is unable or unwilling to pull it off. Say what you will about his acting abilities, Reeves is severely underrated as a physical performer. Acting is often as much about body language, and here the guy truly embodies an expert killer.



He committed to months of intensive weapons and martial arts training — with every fibre of his being, according to Stahelski — and it has paid off handsomely on screen. Reeves is slightly less convincing in the more sedate, dialogue-driven moments, but even then he manages to convey the world-weariness of a man trapped by his deadly past.

If this sequel were to be judged solely on the action alone, it’d already rank pretty high on the list of must-sees. But Stahelski is proving that his skills aren’t just limited to the technical department. He understands the true potential of “John Wick” as a franchise, and it lies far beyond the car chases, gunfights, or hand-to-hand combat. It’s in the richness of the universe Wick and his ilk inhabit, and for a storyteller it’s a veritable goldmine.



The first film offered a tantalising glimpse of this universe, with its impossibly cool fashions, quaint honour systems, and timeless safe havens for assassins like the Continental Hotel. Everyone who came out of that movie was left wishing for a sequel, if only to see more of this stuff.

Stahelski and his writer Derek Kolstad happily oblige, widening the scope just enough to reveal new delights. And it feels special, like that well-connected friend sneaking you through the back door of a members-only club. The sequel lets us in on just how extensive and sophisticated this industry of professional killers really is, how they have their own unique culture, laws, and even currency.



This parallel world within the world of regular folk is all rather surreal and off-kilter, and that’s a large part of the appeal. This is a world where a guy called a Sommelier lovingly recommends not fine wines but the finest weaponry, “job orders” are processed by 1950s-style telephone operators, and crime families throw ridiculously lavish parties that could double as the Milan Fashion Week (except it’s in Rome. At the catacombs!). On the flip-side, there is also a secret network of homeless assassins, led by Laurence Fishburne. Because why wouldn’t there be? As kooky as it all sounds, it somehow feels consistent with the internal logic of this universe.

The supporting cast helps sell it, with the likes of returning actors Ian McShane, Lance Reddick and John Leguizamo bringing a nice sense of lived-in gravitas to their roles, while new additions Common, Ricardo Scamarcio, and Italian veteran Franco Nero (the original “Django”) make for effective antagonists/allies. It’s cool to see Reeves and Fishburne reunited post-“Matrix”, and Laurence just gets the tone of the material with a suitably operatic performance. Even Ruby Rose, who irritated the crap out of me in “XXX: The Return Of Xander Cage” comes off as a compelling character here.



Inevitably for a movie that strikes such a specific tone, there are some elements that don’t quite work or are flat-out silly — Wick apparently has the healing powers of Wolverine, as guns and knives inflict only temporary damage. And his motivations this time don’t have the emotional power of the first (nothing beats having your puppy murdered), so his choices sometimes seem a little foolhardy for such a seasoned pro.

In the face of such consistently kickass entertainment however, these are mere nitpicks. I’m happy for Reeves, whose career has now found a much-deserved 2nd wind. It’s the right use of his admittedly limited gifts as an actor. But make no mistake, this guy is a bona fide movie star, one with an enigmatic quality that’s difficult to pin down. A role like John Wick needs it, especially since every other character sees him as some mythic figure to be whispered about in hushed tones.



“Chapter 2” is obviously intended to be the springboard for more instalments, and I am totally game for it. They’ve proven that the universe is rich enough to support more stories, and as long as they keep their imaginations running the way it has thus far, this is one action franchise that won’t run out of ammo anytime soon.

 

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Rating: 4.7/5 (3 votes cast)

12 comments

  1. Barkley

    February 17, 2017 @ 12:30 pm

    Man, why are your reviews always so late? Should post them a day before the movie’s out not a week after. Anyway I seen this twice already. Liked it less the 2nd time but still damn good. At least they didn’t repeat the same idea of killing his new dog or girlfriend. The lighting is cool, seems like every action scene is lit by a different color. Ending a bit anti climax though. Setting up Chapter 3 but not satisfying on its own. 3/5 stars for me.

  2. Arrivederci

    February 17, 2017 @ 2:12 pm

    @barkley – Man why you always complaining and saying negative stuff? Just take the guy’s reviews as they come, he don’t owe us nothing.

    @electroshadow – Love your review man, keep it up. Don’t let the haters get you down. Good read bout the reason action sequels fail. Never saw it but now I do. Movie’s awesome, still prefer part 1 but this is awesome too.

  3. Hannibalism

    February 17, 2017 @ 8:22 pm

    The plots for these movies are just an excuse to showcase the action. Its lucky they handle the action well. Agree that without the personal stakes of the first one this one is a forced reentry into the world he left. Nice review though.

  4. Sanus Magus

    February 18, 2017 @ 2:51 am

    Haha great title. Balletic ballistics. That could be the name of some new HK shoot em up. Loved the movie. Way better than those Liam Neeson potboilers though The Raid series is better for sheer visceralness.

  5. Kara Lovee

    February 18, 2017 @ 11:54 am

    Big fan of Keanu so will watch anything he’s in. Didn’t really enjoy the first one cuz of all the violence, not so much my thing. Couldn’t watch the puppy scene too. I walked out of the theater to the concession stands and came back only when my bf texted me the coast was clear. Amd glad he warned me upfront so I could avoid it completely. He dragged me along for this one promising no more animal cruelty and y’know what I literally enjoyed this way more! Keanu still looks good in suits as most men do, and I felt sorry for him that all these guys were trying to kill him when he just wanted to be left alone. The last scene got me right in the feels. I hope there’s a Part 3!

  6. gwen10

    February 18, 2017 @ 4:23 pm

    I’m baaaaaaack!

    I never really went away. Just sort of turned into a silent follower lately.

    Anyway, like most people I only got to know John Wick by word of mouth and it’s one of my most highly recommended action films. I’m so sick of Hollywood shaky cams and fast cuts in action sequences. John Wick’s fight choreography was tight and fluid and reads well on camera. Am glad to see they kept that discipline in Chapter 2.

    He does come off slightly invincible in this film, but I could overlook that given I’m now invested in the character and the franchise. It would be interesting to see how they build this further and what his motivations are going to be in the 3rd installment. Is it just going to be about the need to stay alive? And how can he even win when the entire world is now after him?

    Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

    Great review, btw. Concise and focused. Looking forward to the next one.

  7. Wai

    February 20, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

    Barkley: I do apologise for the lateness of my reviews. I don’t get paid to do this stuff, and the work that I get paid for takes up a lot of my waking hours. So inevitably, other things like these get pushed to the side.

    Arrivederci: Thanks for the words of encouragement. This is what keeps me going through the rough patches.

    Hannibalism: I don’t think the plots are an excuse to showcase the action. I think it’s woven organically enough with the action so they complement each other. For example, all that stuff about the assassins’ world isn’t necessarily about leading to the next piece. I think it’s strong enough to have a spinoff set in this world, featuring other characters.

    Sanus Magus: “The Raid” is a slightly different breed of actioner, though the 2nd one also expanded its scope to show us a larger world of criminals and crazies.

    Kara Lovee: Yeah I get it that animal lovers would find that scene unbearable to watch. I hit me pretty hard too, as I love dogs. Actually, I love all animals. 🙂

    gwen10: Well well well, the Prodigal Daughter returns!! Haha, just being melodramatic. Great to hear from you again. Your observations are always a nice breath of fresh air around here. As for the 3rd film, it’s a matter of time before they greenlight it. Stahelski said he’s already mapped out what it will be about. Seems to me like it’ll be a survival movie.

  8. Julian Dellamorte

    February 21, 2017 @ 11:01 pm

    Great to see you’re getting back into the swing of things. Agree with the other poster about the review’s title. Sums up the appeal of this movie, heck of the franchise in total. Believe or not, I haven’t seen part 1, so wasn’t sure if I should watch part 2. Boy was I glad I did. The thing about movies with such a dead simple premise, you can drop in halfway and still come up to speed pretty quickly. I am curious about what they established in the first one though. Have to see it pronto. Love the whole concept of ‘gentlemen killers’, though I noticed how John was the only guy who regularly broke the rules – he refused to honour the blood debt, then he killed a guy on Continental grounds. What do make of this? I took it to mean he was serious about leaving the hitmen’s life behind and so those rules meant nothing to him anymore.

    gwen10 is right about how invincible Wick is. Also I found Keanu a little awkward in some scenes, like he was struggling to emote properly. But like you said, this is a minor thing in the face of such awesome action. I believe they call it gun-fu, not a new concept since Chris Bale did it in that weird futuristic movie, but I think Wick does it way more satisfyingly. Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to try and get my hands on John Wick!

  9. Barkley

    February 22, 2017 @ 9:03 am

    Arrivederci, as JAck once said: You can’t handle the truth! At least Electroshadow reviewers can. All respects to them.

  10. Wai

    February 25, 2017 @ 3:18 pm

    Julian Dellamorte: Thanks, but don’t expect as many reviews as I was once able to write. As for your question about why Wick broke the rules, I’d say it’s because he really did not give a crap anymore. That scene at his burnt out home sort of symbolically conveyed that the last vestiges of his hope of a normal life had been destroyed, and he came off a broken man. Still makes him viable for more sequels though, because nothing’s as dangerous as a man with nothing left to lose.

  11. filet0fish

    March 3, 2017 @ 11:54 am

    hhmmm… there are assassins everywhere! John walks out, and there are bound to be 2 hands full of assassins awaiting. why aren’t i one!?

  12. Wai

    March 6, 2017 @ 5:03 pm

    filet0fish: You could apply to be a homeless assassin, and see if John shows up at a local shelter…

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