Wednesday, February 15, 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2 Review

October 2014 saw the release of a movie called "John Wick." Leading up to its release it seemed like yet another one of those throwaway action movies buried in the midst of a busy October, a month not typically known for it's phenomenal new movies. September, October and January are the three worst months of the year for the box office when it comes to new releases. On top of that, the movie starred Keanu Reeves, who hadn't had a hit at the box office in quite some time. In fact, leading up to the movie he was one of those actors who everyone loved to make fun of because, outside "The Matrix," he really hadn't done much that was super interesting in his career. To top it off, we had the directorial debuts of Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, both of whom had worked as stunt coordinators prior to the movie. It seemed like a recipe for a forgettable action movie that I wasn't even planning on seeing. Until the reviews came out. I was shocked to see how positive the reviews were and thus I had to see for myself. And yes, the movie was in fact super awesome! Such a pleasant surprise! Thanks to good legs at the box office and a cult following after coming to DVD, we now have a sequel to enjoy that is quite honestly just as enjoyable as the first one.

Action sequels don't always work out. In fact, these past six months or so was supposed to be a great period of time for action sequels as we had the original cast and crew return for another Bourne movie in late July, a sequel to the extremely underrated and overlooked "Jack Reacher" in October and a sequel to "John Wick" here in February. Well, "Jason Bourne" wasn't nearly as good as it could've been and "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" was flat out atrocious. That made me slightly nervous for "John Wick: Chapter 2." Was it going to be three strikes we're out or third times the charm? Luckily it was the latter, which is all the more impressive given the common trend for action sequels. If you never saw "John Wick," first off you should go fix that. As long as you are a fan of action movies, that is. If you hate action movies, well, I don't know why you're reading this review, but I appreciate it anyways. "John Wick" was a very self-aware movie that simply had the goal of being an awesome action movie and succeeded in a big way. It set up this world where John Wick was a well-known ex-hitman that did his job very well. Yet all he wanted to do was retire and live a quiet life. However, when some moron decided to kill his dog, John Wick was forced out of retirement and sought for revenge.

"John Wick: Chapter 2" has a similar set-up, but no murdered dogs thankfully. Instead we have a dude coming to John Wick asking him to kill someone for him. But again, all John Wick wants to do is retire and live a quiet life with himself and his new dog. But apparently when you're an ex-hitman, you don't get the luxury of living a quiet life, so when John Wick turns this dude down, the dude finds a way to force John Wick to do the job anyways. So yes, we have a slightly less personal setup than the first movie where John Wick is out avenging the death of his dog, but at the same time the sequel expands the lore that the first movie setup as you realize how big this organization that John Wick was once a part of. And apparently he was a big deal because, like in the first one, everyone fears John Wick. Usually in action movies like this, the big baddie is super confident that he can destroy the protagonist. The "John Wick" franchise doesn't follow that. Yes, there are the small handful of morons who don't realize what mess they've gotten themselves into when they mess with John Wick. Everyone else is like, "Yeah, you're screwed. You don't mess with John Wick." They paint the picture of John Wick being a super scary dude who is impossible to stop if you make him angry.

In turn, what makes the movie work is that when you see John Wick in action, you totally understand why all these villains fear him so much. Keanu Reeves as John Wick has this daunting persona to him. He screams unstoppable hitman. Yet he also has a lot of depth and emotion to him that makes him so freaking likable. Keanu Reeves literally pulls off the perfection action hero. Without that perfect performance, these movies don't work. With that performance, these movies become perhaps some of the best action movies made. In fact, Keanu Reeves does such a good job that he has become John Wick in my eyes, much like Matt Damon instantly became Jason Bourne when I first saw the original Bourne trilogy. Matt Damon will forever carry the mantel of Jason Bourne wherever he goes and in whatever movie he stars on. And that's a good thing in this case. Keanu Reeves has been elevated to that level. He IS John Wick. Whatever he does with his future, it will be hard to see him as anything else. Even when I go re-watch "The Matrix" movies, I might look at them and say, "Hey look! It's John Wick in this movie!" Yes, he fights like an experienced veteran playing a first-person shooter video game on the easiest level, but in this case that's part of the fun of these movies.

Watching John Wick walk into a room and totally annihilate everyone there is super entertaining. It's like watching the church scene from "Kingsman: The Secret Service," but for the whole movie. The best part of these action sequences are the actual stunt work. Given that our director in this, Chad Stahelski who co-directed the first "John Wick" (but not David Leitch -- although he's currently signed onto "Deadpool 2"), was a stunt coordinator before jumping onto direct these two movies, you can definitely tell that he knows what he's doing when it comes to the action sequences. A lot of action movies these days cheat the system when it comes to directing the action. The movies will be loaded with a ton of super fast cuts as well as a lot of shaky camera work that try to hide the fact that they were too lazy to do actual stunt work. Not the Jason Bourne style of shaky cam that's super effective. The shaky cam that hides the impact of the action so that, along with the super fast cuts, allows the actors to not do any stunt work. This is both lazy and annoying. The best action sequences are the action movies that take time to make the action look good and natural with real stunt work, longer shots and carefully done choreography instead of this lazy half-attempted nonsense.

That's why these action sequences are so fun. All the takes in the movie are much longer than your cheap action nonsense with clear, crisp editing that flows naturally instead of giving you a headache. The camera work isn't lazy. It's careful and meticulous. All this allows Keanu Reeves to shine in this role of John Wick. You can look up videos of Keanu Reeves training for the first movie and it's jaw-dropping to see what he went through to make the first movie a success. Even if you don't watch behind the scenes videos, you can just tell from the way each action scene is put together that Keanu Reeves put a lot of time and effort into bringing this to life and making these scenes look real and believable. There were no shortcuts taken to make this movie. They did everything the right way and it is so refreshing watching the final result. But it's not just that. You can tell that this whole movie was meticulously planned out. Every scene is a masterwork of choreography and placement with the characters and the set pieces. All the said set pieces are beautifully put together with fantastic lighting that draws you in and makes you appreciate every scene and every shot. Plus we have an amazing score that is the icing on the cake. The glue that holds everything in this movie together.

As far as the story and the characters go, I don't want to reveal too much about what happens. There are so many amazing moments in this movie that had me in awe. So many awesome action sequences and so many fantastic set pieces that are best left to the surprise of the viewer. Rather than me tell you which battles I liked most or which moments had me in awe, I'd rather let you experience them yourself. As far as the story goes, there is a part one to the story that I very briefly touched on in the beginning of the review. That basic setup is definitely not all that this movie consists of. There is a part two to this movie where the focus of John Wick completely shifts and a part three that briefly raps up this chapter in our saga. Intermixed are a few side arcs here and there that do a great job of building a great overall narrative that expands this universe that the first movie set up. We also have several new additions to this cast that are highlighted by Riccardo Scamarcio, Common, Ruby Rose, Claudia Gerini and Laurence Fishburne. I won't say what these characters did, but I'll tell you that I loved all of them. Especially Ruby Rose and Common. It was pure joy for me every time they showed up. And we have a few returning characters that were fun to see again.

Overall, if you were a fan of "John Wick," then you absolutely need to make seeing "John Wick: Chapter 2" a top priority if you haven't already. Sure, there's no duplicating the feeling of going into a movie like "John Wick" expecting nothing and getting shell-shocked by how fantastic it is. This time around there's been an insane amount of excitement, yet to me this is a case where I went in super excited and I left feeling completely satisfied, which didn't happen nearly as often as I wanted it to with some of my big anticipated movies from 2016, which is a good initial sign for 2017. So far "Split," "The LEGO Batman Movie" and now "John Wick: Chapter 2" are three movies from 2017 that I was really looking forward to that all gave me exactly what I was hoping for and even more. "John Wick: Chapter 2" does a great job of repeating what we all loved from the first movie without being repetitive or redundant while expanding on the universe that the first movie set up. I loved "John Wick" and I love "John Wick: Chapter 2." I'm happy to report that I have no idea which movie I love more. And I'm excited for "John Wick: Chapter 3." If the third movie ends up as good as the first two, this honestly could turn into one of the best action trilogies ever. I'm awarding "John Wick: Chapter 2" a 9/10.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review Adam. I am looking forward to seeing this film.