Saturday, 25 February 2017

Review: John Wick - Chapter 2

John Wick: Chapter 2
Cert: 15 / 122 mins / Dir. Chad Stahelski / Trailer

After the adverts, trailers and more adverts have finished running, there's often a moment in the cinema where the whirring, motorised screen-edges widen, taking the aspect-ratio from 16:9(ish) to 2.35:1(ish). When this happens, my brain has one of three reactions. 1) This is as it should be, for the film I'm about to watch. 2) Well that's a pleasant surprise, considering the film I'm about to watch. 3) Get in, 33%(ish) more visible screen-death! There are no prizes for guessing which one of these crossed my mind before I read the BBFC-card for John Wick: Chapter 2

Now it's not unfair to say that Chad Stahelski's sequel assumes (indeed, requires) that you enjoyed the first movie. In the first act at least, there's very little 'world building' going on and the film basically starts on 10 with a car-chase/shoot-up. A little more background is painted in later, but by then the adrenaline's been pumping so long that it doesn't matter how little sense the plot makes.

Still aggrieved about the can of worms he opened in the first movie*1, Chapter 2 sees retired hitman John owing someone a favour, trying to get out of that favour, repaying that favour and then wishing he hadn't bothered when everybody's trying to kill him. Who'd make an honour-deal with a criminal overlord, eh? Keanu Reeves does his best concerned-face as he relies on old friends and acquaintances to help him out, and the action moves to Italy for Artistic Reasons™ (although not permanently). Floating vibrantly through the air, plumes of blood gently redecorate the walls of Roman catacombs as their ballistic forebears percussively counter them by taking chunks out of the stonework. John Wick: Chapter 2 is a ballet of destruction, fully aware of its own preposterousness but never breaking its poker-face.

As predicted, Reeves' acting-chops don't get any better, but I'm not sure they can now. Luckily, this is one of the rare exceptions where his mahogany-esque acting only adds to the charm of the film. Peter Stormare hams up the opening exposition, Ian McShane returns to chew the scenery in the film's down-time, and there's also some fantastic over-acting from Laurence Fishburne (it's pretty great to see Neo and Morpheus back together again). It's genuinely like a bunch of old friends going 'don't worry Keanu, we've got your back'.

Although the first movie wasn't exactly a passive-aggressive note left on the office-fridge door, the sequel seems to have taken some lessons from Kingsmen as far as the dark-humour is concerned. I found myself cackling at some nameless henchman's demise on more than one occasion. And in terms of the wound-resistant, globe-trotting, anti-hero murderer archetype, the film wipes the floor with the likes of xXx. John Wick hasn't got time excruciating flirting when there are sharply-dressed gangsters that need despatching. The one-hit kills of lesser movies are nowhere to be seen, as Wick double-taps his way through each set-piece, a spray of claret emitting from each insurance shot. Gloriously irresponsible, it's the cinematic equivalent of four pints of diesel and a round of tequila slammers on a Tuesday night.

If you enjoy John Wick: Chapter 2 for no other reason, spare a thought for cinematographer Dan Laustsen, tasked with setting up a prolonged climactic shootout*2 in a maze of revolving mirrors, while ensuring the audience don't see the cameras. Outstanding work, sir…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
John Wick, pretty much.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Big, loud = good.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's definitely up there, to be fair.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I shouldn't imagine so.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Inexplicably not.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: This film's got the (first) voice of Darth Maul in it.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…*3

*1 The first flick saw 84 people buying the farm because some hoodlums killed John's dog. The sequel features 128 people carking it because a photo of John's now-dead wife got burned. At this rate, John Wick Chapter 3 will be Keanu Reeves murdering 250 gangsters because one of them left the milk out on the side before going to work… [ BACK ]

*2 At the point where John gets given a pistol and seven rounds (one for each million-dollars making up the price on his head), I thought 'Oh, is the film about to go a bit Deadpool and show us how economical a killing machine the man can be? Is he really going to get through the finale of the film firing only seven shots?. The film then answered this by essentially saying "Ha-hah, is he fuck". John uses all the rounds on the first foot-soldier he comes across before taking that guy's gun and escalating from there. Restraint? Not in this screenplay, sunshine. [ BACK ]

*3 For reasons best-known only to myself two years ago, I marked the first movie at 5 out of 7, despite having only good things to say about it and nothing but fond memories since. Perhaps I was judging it against the more earnest action-movies which it's clearly not trying to be. Oddly enough, a work-colleague of mine told me last week he'd gone to watch John Wick for the first time in anticipation of the new movie, but gave up after twenty minutes because of the atrocious acting. Whichever way, I marked it 5 so I must have been feeling that at the time. And while it's hard for me to say that Chapter 2 is a "better" film, it's definitely a 6, so there we go. Make of that what you will.[ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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