Friday, 19 May 2017

IN THEATRES: John Wick, Chapter 2

It has been a few months since its release everywhere else, but John Wick 2 is finally here! YAY! 


The first John Wick re-acquainted me with my love of watching bad people getting shot in the face. Cool, clean and simple, it felt like a glimpse into what a seventies action movie would look like if the eighties had never happened. There is an economy and intelligence to the way those movies (generally directed by Don Segiel  and Walter Hill) were made that we don't see enough of any more (it's the same reason I loved Mad Max: Fury Road and Dredd).

After the events of the first film, John Wick is trying to rebuild his life when he is paid a visit by Italian crime boss Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio). Wick owes him a favour after D'Antonio helped him get out of the game the first time around. With the 'boogeyman' back in the game, D'Antonio is here to collect. Soon, Wick is back on the run with a massive bounty on his head...

Keanu Reeves has made a few great action movies which got sequels. This is far and away the best one. 

Like Raid 2, this is bigger in scope, and like that movie, it loses a bit of the intensity. But this is no Matrix Reloaded. The movie is boatloads of fun, filled with inventive set pieces, eye popping art direction and plenty of pitch black humour.


With his sunken eyes and hangdog face, Reeves is starting to look his age, and that world-weariness works for the role: John Wick is the modern successor to the taciturn gunmen Lee Marvin, Chuck Bronson and Steve McQueen used to play in the sixties and seventies. Like those actors, Reeves is more of a presence than an actor. His range is extremely limited, and his off-kilter delivery has sunk him more times than not. But in a role like Wick, or Neo or Ted, his stiffness gives him an otherworldly quality that works for those roles.


The same goes for Common, playing Wick's rival Cassian. Like Reeves, he is not the best actor in the world, but the minimalist aesthetic of the Wick-verse fits him perfectly. Though it is hard to tell, it looks like he does most of his own action. He moves well, and with no wasted motion.

Playing another killer on Wick's tail, Ruby Rose's scenes feel like clips from Young Rosa Klebb Chronicles. Good female characters are hard to come by in action movies -- they are either victims or sexpots (or both). Apart from one weird butt shot, her character is constructed in the same economical fashion as the other assassins. Her character is mute, which actually adds to the role. I cannot see her Australian accent passing muster in this world.

The supporting cast from the original return. As the Continental staff, Ian McShane and Lance Reddick continue to be terrifically deadpan. The rest of the supporting players are a bunch of familiar genre faces: David Patrick Kelly - of The Warriors and Commando - pops up briefly; Laurence Fishburne chews every piece of scenery as a homeless gang boss; and, in the biggest surprise of all, Italian cinematic icon Franco Nero appears as the manager of Continental's Italian subsidiary.

Now to the action: it's great. With the bigger budget, the action has expanded, but it built on the same fundamentals: actors doing the action; shoot in wides; and only cut when absolutely necessary.

We start with a great car chase (complete with a wonderfully deadpan appearance from Peter Stormare) through the streets of the Big Apple, before moving to an outdoor rave, a train, an art museum and, as the finale, a bravura sequence in a hall of mirrors.

The colour palette is vivid and splashy like a comic book, and the set design is wonderfully lush. There is a bathroom in this movie that is one of the most beautifully shot rooms I've seen in a long time. It's a gorgeous-looking movie.

It is also extremely funny. Unlike so many action movies of recent times, this one bothers to have a sense of humour. It knows that it is ridiculous, but has the sense to play everything straight. The high-point in this respect are the two extended running fights between Wick and Cassian that take up the movie's second act. They are filled with wonderful beats: the endless fall down a flight of stairs; the silent gun battle through a busy train station; their final showdown inside the train, which climaxes with the frozen passengers fleeing as soon as the train stops. The movie's sense of timing and tone is perfect.

As I mentioned at the outset, the movie is not flawless.

One quibble that grew on me was that is that there is no real physical threat to our anti-hero. While he sustains some damage, Wick is so superhuman that the fights begin to feel repetitive. While they are initially presented as such, neither Common nor Ruby Rose are compatible as physical antagonists. Common initially appears to be Wick's equal, but he is dispatched fairly quickly. That leaves Ruby Rose, whose final showdown is extremely brief. At first I thought her size and looks were a misdirect. I was expecting her to be a real threat, like Mad Dog from The Raid or that little guy from The Simpsons.

Frankly, it would have made more sense to just amalgamate Common and Ruby Rose's roles into one character. You could cut Common from the movie and the movie's narrative trajectory would not be greatly affected. The movie's main villain is totally functional (and rather reprehensible), but he's not that memorable.

These are pretty small nitpicks, but I hope we get some memorable baddies in John Wick 3 that can put Reeves through his paces.

Overall, John Wick Chapter 2 is exactly what you want it to be. It has got great action, it is beautifully shot and covers everything in a thick (but unobtrusive) layer of irony. The dog is also adorable. It's hard to beat a beagle, but I really liked Dog Mark II - he's basically the dog version of his owner. He doesn't make noise, he doesn't wander off or get up to 'cute' hi-jinx. 

If it wasn't already obvious, go see this movie.

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