Yes!!! Finally, praise the lord, hallelujah! The day has finally come!
Okay I’m being a tad over-dramatic. But guys I have been so excited for this movie to finally come out. I am of course talking about John Wick: Chapter Two! I was lucky enough to catch an…… “advance screening” (hahahahahahahahahaha) here in Australia. (Yes yes, never mind the fact that that it came out over 3 months ago in most other parts of the world).
Alright I’m sorry, I’ll cut the cynicism and shit-talk and get into it.
Anyway, John Wick: Chapter Two finally hits cinemas in Australia this week and after the great buzz and word of mouth coming from the rest of the world; I’ve been champing at the bit to catch this movie! It is directed by Chad Stahelski; and stars Keanu Reeves, Common, Ruby Rose, Ian McShane, Riccardo Scamarcio & Laurence Fishburne. This sequel to the surprise smash hit from 2014 has the potential to go one of two ways. Will it live up to the hype and set up one of the great modern action franchises, or like many sequels; will it crash and burn in the shadow of the film preceding it.
(FINAL WARNING FOR SPOILERS!!!)
John Wick: Chapter Two tells the continuing story of John Wick (Reeves), a former hitman drawn back into the world he is trying so desperately to leave once a former associate comes to claim a favour owed to him by Wick. What follows is the path of destruction that Wick leaves in his wake in his struggle to clean his slate and be free of world of death.
Wick initially ties up some loose ends remaining from the first film by retrieving his car that was stolen for him; before retreating to his home in the hope that he has finally put his past behind him. However unsurprisingly it is not long before Santino D’Antonio (Scamarcio) arrives on the scene, attempting to enlist the help of Wick who had sworn a blood oath to D’Antonio in order to leave the hitman world and marry his wife. With the persuasive elements including repercussions for betraying the oath, as well as the destruction of his home and last physical memories of his deceased wife; Wick reluctantly returns to the world he had been clamouring to leave behind.
The great strength in the story of this film is the way that it builds out the world. Since the first film audiences have been clamouring to delve a little deeper into the world of the Continental and the assassins & killers that inhabit it. We see all of the different facets and corners of this universe including: weapons, accessories, how they put a hit out on an individual, and primarily the distinct code of conduct which all of the killers must abide by, lest they suffer the consequences. The team behind the film manage to succeed where many sequels fail by crafting a truly fascinating universe that these characters live, and exploring the inner-most aspects with even greater detail.
Now initially I wasn’t too thrilled with the motivation and plot point that thrust John Wick back into the fray; however the rules and regulations that are introduced (which the movie strictly enforces) worked to change my opinion over the course of the film. I though that it seemed a little too much that John Wick was merely blackmailed (and yeah, he kind of was). But it was made clear that John had no choice once we saw how strict all of these rules were and the black and white lines that are drawn.
The final decision at the end of the film to have John Wick kill Santino on Continental grounds is a fascinating one. You could have made a case for Wick going either way, but the way that the film wrapped up gave it almost a Dark Knight-esque ending. In my opinion it was a great bookend to this as a stand-alone film, but also left a tantalising carrot dangle for a third instalment and epic ending to this franchise.
Oh, and of course it wouldn’t be a John Wick movie without an adorable puppy in tow. I was thrilled to see that his second pooch lived to see the end of the movie this time around.
STORY – 8/10
As you may have figured, John Wick is the leader who thrusts this film on his shoulders and carries much of the story and emotion throughout the film. Reeves has established this character and clearly knows the places to go to play this man. Wick is certainly not a vocal man, but superbly lets his actions speak louder than his words. The story also builds upon the dichotomy introduced in the first film. After the union and subsequent loss of his wife. John desperately wants to want, to not be a part of this world anymore. But circumstances, his skillset and nature pull him back like a rip in the ocean. As we eventually come to see that this is the man that he is meant to be. This is the life he is meant to lead. And the conclusion of the film leads John to come to the same realisation. However the fact that we have seen the heart behind this killer leaving a trail of bodies wherever he goes, means that we still root for him and want to see him find his place in the world.
Apart from John there is definitely a limit to the development of the rest of the characters. My personal favourite in the rest of the line-up is easily Winston (McShane). The manager of the Continental and man who steadfastly upholds law and order in this often chaotic world, despite his personal biases and wants. I’m certainly excited to see where the sequel to this film (hopefully) takes this character with the potential for this character to play a more “villainous” (for lack of a better word) yet non-traditional role.
Cassian (Common) is for me the other character who is given just enough to do as the man who for the most part of the film goes toe to toe with Wick. Unfortunately for the most part a myriad of the villains are underdeveloped beyond “this character looks cool and is cool, trust us”. Santino is the primary antagonist, however is a villain whose greatest exploit is delegating the dirty work to other characters and doing very little himself beyond attempting to scheme his way into power. The fact that he looks like Charles Boyle (Jo Lo Truglio) from Brooklyn Nine-Nine distracted me a tad too.
Lastly I want to briefly touch upon Laurence Fishburne’s ‘role’ in this movie. Strangely receiving third billing for what amounts to less than 10 minutes of screen time. He seems to be channelling his inner-Saw Gerrera with some pretty out-there mannerisms in a very eccentric character. Perhaps his role will be expanded in future films, however in this instance, I was glad that he was relegated to a minor role.
All in all the film lives and dies with Keanu. So I can certainly understand the decision to relegate everybody else to secondary roles at best, and to be honest it is probably what is required for this movie. I just still came away from the cinema thinking that the characters were, on the whole; the weakest part of the movie. But I have my hopes high that the third film will bring one of the very few things that this franchise is lacking: a truly menacing and iconic villain.
CHARACTERS – 7.5/10
I’ve got pretty much all of my nit-picking and gripes out of the way here today. For a vast majority of the rest of this review, I’m going to bore you with glowing praise and endorsement.
This film is gloriously shot with an ominous dark colour palate that reinforces the neo-noir aspects of the film. But the true glory is the way the action scenes are shown on screen. An air of unflinching brutality is outstandingly conveyed on screen in each of the action set pieces in this film. To begin with the fight scenes are expertly choreographed and the fact that Reeves reportedly performed about 95% of the stunts himself is incredible. But the cherry on top that cements this film high quality is the fantastic editing of the fight scenes. Shaky-cam and quick edits certainly have their place in film, but just not in this film. The combat is shown with as few cuts as possible and for a majority of the time linger on Wick. As if the camera (like the audience) can’t bear to look away. You can track exactly what is happening in each scene, which allows you to remain in awe at the stunts and manoeuvres shown on the screen.
Location choices and set design are just as spectacular. Just when you think you might be starting to tire of another gunfight, the movie manages to raise the bar again. An underground tunnel, a crowded subway and finally a hall of mirrors act as the stage for John Wick to showcase his tremendous skillset.
Lastly a quick mention for the score and soundtrack of this movie. Which excellently plays its respective role in backing up what’s being shown on the screen with a harsh yet beautiful blend of both frenetic and ethereal sounds.
John Wick was a great example of how to technically showcase modern action, however Chapter Two has managed to do the seemingly impossible, and has raised the bar in the most spectacular fashion.
PRODUCTION – 10/10
I touched upon this briefly in the previous category but through an iconic character and outstanding camera-work; this movie has cemented the franchise as one of great action series’ of the 21st century. John Wick showcases almost super-human abilities when it comes to taking his enemies down, but the brutal manner in which he does so manage to ground the film to the point where you feel every blow in a very visceral way. I was also surprised to see the amount of blood as a result of all of savage blows Wick lands on his foes. Seriously, this movie is almost as graphic in its depiction of violence as Logan was; and I was in no way expecting that at all. The death of Gianna D’Antonio (Claudia Gerini) in particular certainly isn’t violent compared to the rest of the fatalities; but the blood makes for a horrifying yet graceful end to her character.
The fight scenes are shot in a manner which draws the audience in and allows them to experience them in their full glory. You are thoroughly entertained from the moment John Wick arrives on screen until the moment he makes his final kill. The stunt-work and spectacular visuals make sure of that.
What this movie also achieves which elevates it above other films laden with gun fights and stunt-work. Is the fact that it gets to invest and care for your protagonist. The first film and early parts of this movie lay the ground-work for you to cheer John Wick on, and really want his story to have a happy ending.
One thing that I have particularly enjoyed throughout the first two movies in this franchise is the legacy set up for the character of John Wick without even showing his past exploits on screen. The way every character, good or bad, stops dead in their tracks at the mere mention of his name. His reputation is then only reinforced with the way he tears through the enemies in this film.
Oh, it would be remiss of me to not mention that this movie has the greatest usage of a pencil since The Dark Knight.
I can safely and happily say that this is the most fun I’ve ever had watching a group of people get massacred since Darth Vader did his thing in Rogue One. For many parts of the film I found myself grinning and stifling some truly joyful laughter at some of the spectacular sights before me on screen. It sounds funny for me to say but I was taken to a place of child-like glee by watching Keanu Reeves walk around kicking all sorts of ass.
The only things that I can say really detract from this movie for me personally are some of the characters don’t offer a whole lot beyond that they look cool, and part of the first act can seem a tad slow in comparison to the frenetic pace set by the rest of the movie.
However for me to find much wrong beyond that would enter into nit-picking territory because I really had a blast with this movie. Ultimately it has me really excited for what this franchise has in store for us in the future.
This is a great movie. It has brutally elegant action shown in the most glorious way possible, and a newly iconic character that the audience can get behind. I had an absolute blast with this movie and I am furious that we here in Australia had to wait so much longer to experience such bliss. This is a movie that has great re-watchability and with a third film destined to be announced; could become one of the best movie trilogies of this young century.
I have to go back and re-watch both this movie and the original John Wick before I make my final decision as to which of the two I prefer. At this point in time my gut tells me that the first movie has a better story and a wider range of character development; however the second film soars as an outstanding action spectacle with some of the better modern action put to screen.
If you enjoyed the first film, or if you like a good fight-scene or shoot out. Then this is the movie for you. Hell if you can cope with brutal action, then this is the movie for you. If you’re in Australia, or in some other place in the world and haven’t gotten around to watching this movie yet; then I strongly urge you to check it out! I can happily say that this movie gets, the tick of approval.
89% Approval Rating