There is an abundance of action films lead by leading male protagonists. Many of whom nowadays can be seen either clad in spandex, performing death-defying spectacles involving aeroplanes and extremely tall buildings, or driving very fast cars over submarines. Though I do have a personal preference for those spandex clad heroes (Yes, I know how that reads). There is one male action character whose antics in his first film caught my attention and though he does drive an impress muscle car and wear a fantastic array of suits, it’s not James Bond.
John Wick is one of my favourite action films to have emerged in the last 5 years, a gothic exploration of a world of assassins where everyone is immaculately dressed and very good looking and where the action is thoroughly engaging. The first film displayed some of the best-choreographed hand to hand combat sequences I’ve witnessed, and with a soundtrack that heavily used Marilyn Manson’s last studio album, the effect is totally absorbing in this gothic landscape.
The narrative is not overly complicated but simply familiar. A man has chosen to retire from the world of assassins, he lives in a beautiful house with his dog which serves as one of the few reminders of his recently deceased wife. One day, a poor fool decides he quite likes Wick’s car and robs him, killing his dog in the process and thus initiating a series of events where Wick becomes a revenge thriller. That is the premise, simple enough, but how the film plays with this theme is both pure entertainment, and an interesting take on a familiar story. So, when John Wick: Chapter 2 was announced I was initially sceptical. Would they choose an entirely different direction? Would it still retain that same level of excitement? Or would it feel like a predictable boring rehash of something we have all seen one too many times simply to make money?
John Wick: Chapter 2 never misses a beat from the word go. Music pounding, a city at night, the deep animalistic sound of Wick driving his classic muscle car through the streets chasing a motorbike. Before the scene is followed by another brutal and tightly choreographed fight sequence involving cars, knives, guns and impressive hand to hand fights. It’s gritty, it’s dirty, and no one leaves unharmed. The scene serves to reassure the fans, The Boogeyman has returned.
In the theme of retired characters being pulled back into the world they were determined to leave, the question then becomes how plausible is the reason for which Wick will inevitably once more return to the world of assassins. Though I won’t reveal the reason, I will say it is plausible, and the manner in which the story transpires is more entertaining than I was expecting with quite a few intelligent moves made by the scriptwriters.
For those unaware, the world in which John Wick lives is both impeccably designed in a gothic, new-age style and rooted in an organisation. Think less thick black trench coats and hefty black boots, but more Bond in black. The inner sanctum, the root of their salvation if you will, is a Hotel run by Winston (Ian McShane). Here the assassins congregate, rest and recover their wounds, with one golden rule. No business can be conducted on these hallowed grounds. Credit must go to the filmmakers because you really do feel the weight of respect and authority emulating from these scenes.
Now at this point, you may be questioning my sanity, thinking that I might be taking this film a little too seriously, and perhaps you have a point. But is this not the mark of a great filmmaker, to really pull your audience into the experience? To carefully cultivate the world, authenticating the feel of authority from these characters. You are meant to take this world at its word, it’s part of the thrill. Unlike other franchises such as Underworld evolution, where the unnecessarily convoluted plots create more a comedic tone than anything particularly serious. Wick dispenses with this by making everything straightforward but incredibly fun to watch but more importantly never losing the weight of the authority reinforced by the characters such as Charon (Lance Riddick) and Cassian (Common).
So, besides the impeccable gothic style that I do so love about this film, and of course a cast of good looking people including the compelling Gianna D’Antonio (Claudia Gerini). What makes this film so remarkable is the action and its incredibly tight choreography. Keanu Reeves spends months beforehand not only learning the choreography as most big films actors do for parts. He is also trained how to use each weapon carefully and professionally, how his body language should read and its position, where he should look and how he should hold his weapon when entering a room. It’s as polished as a Bond film, but far grittier and closer in respect to the first Bourne films though with Bonds style. If anything, this style of close combat fighting is similar to The Raid in how authentic it looks.
However, there is a frustration with this film, at the inability of the various guards and assassins, not to rush into a room and instead take a distanced shot at Wick’s head. Granted he does take a great many stab wounds, bullets and probably quite a few broken bones after one particular scene. Chapter 2 doesn’t quite have that same tight use of the environment. In the first film, there is a fantastic nightclub fight sequence involving lots of tighter corners, and direct shots that are so close to Wick’s head that you felt the close proximity and danger of the fight, added to the feeling of not quite being able to identify where the next attack was coming from. This time they choose a more open environment which does have its benefits but also allows more room, meaning you begin questioning how these supposedly highly trained assassins seem unable to make more impact. Despite this slight flaw, the action is once again, slick, brutal, expertly choreographed and great fun to behold.
The Film also marks a reunion of sorts, between Laurence Fishburne and Reeves, who were last seen together in the cult classic The Matrix. Thankfully Fishburne’s character does serve a purpose, not a mere cameo for Matrix fans to squawk at. There is something awe-inspiring about these two men standing together once more, with Fishburne providing an analogy that Morpheus would be proud of, though with enough new components that it feels new.
The supporting characters, both returning and new are given more focus and screen time, and justifiably so. With both Ian McShane and Lance Reddick returning. McShane reprises his role as Winston the manager of the hotel, giving a performance not dissimilar to one he is currently portraying on American Gods, if more empathic. The newcomer Ruby Rose, a former modal, who is probably more well-known for her role in Orange is The New Black. This is the first time I have seen her acting, and so I was pleasantly surprised by her performance, though it is aided by a clever characteristic she is given by the script, she carries it quite well.
So, thankfully John Wick has returned in a hail of gunfire, pumping music and pure adrenaline-filled entertainment. Much like the first one, I have no doubt I will be returning to this film on many occasions. The third instalment is due to start filming later this year and it looks to be set for an interesting ride.
OVERALL **** Sticking to the formula, John Wick: Chapter 2 is exactly what it needed to be, implausible at times, but within some realm of realism with its gothic appearance, stylish attire and music thumping entertainment. Though I would suggest they make a return to a tighter environment in the next film, as previously mentioned, the open environment does question how no one was able to even graze Wick’s head.
RECOMMENDATION- If you enjoyed the first one, then you will enjoy the second. If this isn’t your thing, then there’s little I can say to persuade you otherwise.