February 22, 2017

Movie Review: John Wick - Chapter 2

Three years ago, a little, unassuming action film was released to theaters. It had the rather dull title of John Wick and starred an actor that, while popular, had been something of a poster child for bad actors for years for his somewhat wooden screen presence. As it turns out, this small little action film turned out to be an incredible blast of adrenaline that shows us just what kind of effect an action movie can have. It has an immediate emotional hook which got the audience involved and the lead upset, essentially getting the hero all wound up and then unleashing him for a journey of vengeance. As soon as it ended I wanted more, it has finally arrived in the form of John Wick: Chapter 2.

I rewatched the first one again recently and was amazed to see it was just as good, if not better, than earlier viewings. I was also surprised to find it had me near tears for most of its running time. Yes, tears. The emotional hook of his recently deceased wife and the puppy, combined with Keanu’s performance (an excellent choice for this character) left me an emotional wreck. It is really quite amazing. Going into the second I had some legitimate concerns of how the story would play out, if they would be able to keep that emotional attachment intact without simply repeating what had happened before. I am happy to report that while not quite as emotionally involving as the first, it still has a hook that left me rather emotional at the end. Although, it was quite irrational.

Director Chad Stahelski returns to the director’s chair, having made his theatrical debut with the first John Wick film. He brings an extensive experience as a stuntman (including work as Keanu Reeves’ stunt double on the Matrix films) with him, which likely gave him a leg up on making an action film. I fully expect that experience is what allowed him to make this absolutely explosive action film be as comprehensible as it is. When you watch it, you can actually see what is going on and you can know that the frenetic editing that is so common these days (see Resident Evil: The Final Chapter). Want to shoot action? Study this movie.

On the other side, Derek Kolstad returns to continue the story from the first. He does a good job of bringing us back into this world by opening with a big unresolved bit from the first and using that to launch into this new chapter. It is a chapter that feels right in line with what we know, while expanding the Wick-iverse. Kolstad manages to amp up all aspects of the action of the first, while retaining a distinct human element. There is no denying the hyper-reality here, but the thing still has a grounding with its characters.

The story this time picks up, I am assuming not very long after the first one ended. I cannot imagine being someone of Wick’s skill and notoriety doing what he did not get noticed. Anyway, it kicks off right into an action sequence whose purpose is to wrap the story of the first. Just as that bit gets resolved (If you’ve seen the first, you may be able to guess what this bit is about), we are introduced to someone who needs to make use of Wick’s services. Of course, Wick just wants out, left alone to grieve, something he still has not been able to do.

Well, as it goes, Wick is eventually coerced into doing this job. The problem is that doing the job opens up a whole new can of worms and keeps our hero out in the streets taking on all comers, and it does not appear to be getting better the closer to the end we get.

To be honest, the story is not terribly complicated. This is a movie (both of them, really) that survives on execution. This is an action film, pure and simple. The goal is to put all of the action on the screen. This is a movie where you give enough story to wind up the hero and let him go, This is an example of pure action film making. There are no frills, no complications, just perfectly executed action. It doesn’t matter if it involves car chases, guns, knives, or fists, this movie is up to the task of delivering.

So far as the acting goes, not great, but has a nicely stylized feel to it. Nothing gets bogged down too much in reality (how many cops show up in this movie?). Keanu Reeves, what can I say? He has never shown a great range in style, but he occasionally finds a role that is perfectly suited to his abilities. This is one of those roles. Honestly, it doesn’t matter who is around him, despite there being a good supporting cast including John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, and Lance Reddick. The sequel brings in the likes of Common and Ruby Rose (solid adversaries), along with Laurence Fishburne and Franco Nero.

I am not sure what else to say. On one hand it is more of the same, but at the same time it is so much more. John Wick: Chapter 2 is absolutely brimming with energy, always on the verge of exploding. It is paced perfectly, giving us little breathers here and there to advance the plot, or give us a great “gearing up” sequence, which is different from the first and just a blast to watch.

As everything built to the end of the film, I already felt the simultaneous desires of wanting Chapter 3 right now and wanting to sit back down and watch this one again. So far as action films go, I think this is going to be a tough one to beat this year. If you like action movies, there is absolutely no excuse you can make for missing this one. And, like the first one, I was still left an emotional wreck as I came down from the adrenaline release.

Highly Recommended.

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