I’m just gonna come right out and say it, John Wick 2 and it’s predecessor are two of the most accomplished and game changing action flicks of the last decade.
While the story isn’t as emotionally investing as the original, John Wick’s latest foray is a total blast. The screening I went too was pretty packed, quite few of the people there were couples as I saw it on valentines day as a preview screening. They enjoyed it as much as I did I’m sure, proven by it’s box office numbers which currently sits at over 91 million worldwide against a 40 million production budget, outdoing it’s predecessor which was at over 80 million.
The action outdoes its predecessor by being both inventive and somehow funny, despite the grimness of the violence as John dispatches his enemies with malicious efficiency. What’s to be praised however is that director Chad Stalhelski (who was not only one of the directors of the first film, but also a stuntman on The Matrix) doesn’t cheat the audience through frantic editing in the fight scenes.
He refers to the current landscape in action filmmaking by saying that he noticed that the “editing and camerawork was more about hiding things than showing things”. It’s a response to fan’s who embraced the first film that they wanted even better action. Stahelski recognises the demand for better action these days as he said in an interview that he wanted to make the character of John Wick better by making Reeves better, by making his training even more intense and sophisticated than before by taking him as far as he can go.
Reeves is pretty dedicated to his involvement in the choreography, much of it if not all of it is him and you totally buy that he can do this stuff in real life in fact. Wick’s engagement with his enemies is almost an artform, to a degree of it being almost an honor to be killed by him.
What I really dug as well was that the goons John faces off aren’t inept, they give him a run for his money and they don’t go down easy. The time span is pretty short, no more than 2 days I’d say. There’s consistency throughout the film the damage he’s inflicted, his bruises and cuts after a while start to look like his tattoos. Speaking of the violence, you also get a real sense pain, some of it is cringe inducing actually and not done in an unnecessary manner where it doesn’t seem to fit the world that’s been depicted.
From the opening sequence we get the sense that there’s a one ups manship (pretty sure that word doesn’t exist) in the stuntwork as for a brief moment there’s a homage to Buster Keaton who is recognized as cinema’s greatest stuntsman. Not just Keaton, there’s a sequence in the climax that nods to Bruce Lee’s iconic ‘Enter The Dragon’. The set pieces are a mix between dark and hellish to bright and glitzy. There’s one battle in the middle that’s amongst the best I’ve seen so far this decade, it’s glorious. Our troubled hitman has risen to a mythic level, we see him at first only in silhouettes, shadows or in blurred vision. Peter Stormare’s Abram Tasarov explains the mythos and endurance of John and you see plainly the fright on his face, he’s the boogeyman after all.
John isn’t a bad guy as such, he’s just a good guy who’s done a lot of bad things. He just wants to be left alone, there’s a parallel of sorts to Michael Corleone’s “They pull me back in” scene from The Godfather III. A man of his reputation can’t possibly live a normal life when he’s lived through many extraordinary circumstances. He’s a man of a few words; he’s secluded, mysterious and somewhat warm too. He has a passive aggressive nature that makes him somewhat endearing. Can’t feel too sorry for him however, the mayhem and destruction he lays waste to his opposition is pretty brutal. The goons drop almost as quick as the bullets do.
Laurence Fishburne is a hoot as The Bowery King, an underground crime lord who admires John but there is certainly tension afoot between the two. I’d very much like to see Fishburne as a villain sometime soon, and if he has been in the past, it can’t of been that memorable. Not surprisingly there are references to The Matrix, done in a way thankfully that doesn’t feel forced, it’s more coincidental than anything.
Not to be overlooked is Dan Laustsen’s cinematography, it’s visually sleek with much of it’s colours being purple and black to really give an underworld kind of vibe. It shouldn’t be long till this franchise spawns a video game, especially instances of John’s cover system and proficiency with pretty much any weapon he can get his hands on.
Something my good buddy Rick mentioned was the repetitive nature of the combat. It can be exhaustive after a while seeing John subdue his enemies by flipping them over him multiple times. Still for the most part it’s enthralling to watch and it’s pretty grounded in reality even if the nature is over the top. By the end, John makes a decision that is to the point of no return and can only mean even bigger stakes for his third outing, one in which I’m pretty excited for. You ought to be to, whether you’re an action movie junkie or a dog lover, see it in a theatre near you.