Aaaaaand we’re back.
Just like John Wick, I try and stay retired, tried to get away from the game, but the game ain’t done with me yet…
Damn. Start your engines. Right off the bat the movie throws you into a two-pronged, bad-ass action sequence, with intermittent showings of the always stupendous Peter Stromare, lending his splendid accent to some further building on the legend of Wick. He is the uncle of little Aflie Allen‘s Iosef Tarasov from ‘Chapter 1,’ and explains, conveniently for anyone foolish enough to miss the first installment, enough of the general gist (“He did all this over a dog; We have his car; He is the f’n boogeyman”) of why John Wick is a-comin’ to wreak havoc. Specifically, they have his car. And oh, boy does John Wick want it back. The opening car sequence and general badass entrance of Keanu Reeves sets the tone for what follows.
And what follows is visually stunning, artfully crafted violence ballet. A study in action movie tropes, used and toyed with to the point of mastery. A hyper-reality vision, realized in its fullest of glories.
I understand the trepidation some feel towards such stylized violence, that this movie isn’t for everyone. However, even such critics must admit, Chad Stahelski and Derek Kolstad have a unique take on this genre and a wonderful hold on the tropes, expectations, and general pulse of what makes a good action movie, not just more junk. The hyper-realistic, brutal fighting lends itself to the sharpness of the plot and writing, as we uncover a global web of assassins and dangerous people. In much the same way I find the fighting in Netflix’s Daredevil serves as an additional player in the story, the hyper-realism of the violence has this bizarre, captivating effect of simultaneously shocking, seeming ‘out there’ while also serving to ground us in the ‘reality’ of the situation at hand – Just like Matt Murdock, John Wick is a very dangerous man, and he will demolish you in simple, violent strokes.
Stahelski clearly ‘gets it.’ He understands the innate heartbeat of a good action movie, no doubt from his years of working so closely on and within them. There is a gruesome comedic timing of violence and pacing of dialogue in a truly elevated action movie. This second chapter feels like a perfect follow up, a movie all its own, and a simply brilliant set up for a larger, expanding world of Wick movies, and yet never feels like a set-up, send-up, nor rehash.
It doesn’t hurt to have such an amazing cast of characters and actors together on such pulpy goodness where they can just chew and chew and chew scenes. Some thoughts on these greats:
- The aforementioned Peter Stormare was a welcome treat, a favorite of mine since his role in Jurassic Park: The Lost World and even more so for his amazingly creepy turn as Satan in Keanu’s underrated Constantine.
- Ruby Rose. All of the yes in this movie. Stupendous. Arguably one of the better movie henchpersons in an action film in recent memory, and she doesn’t say a damned word.
- Lance Reddick is such a great, fun actor, and should be in every John Wick movie.
- Ian McShane plays the perfect action movie ‘frenemy.’ He is an asset and makes me so very excited for his role in American Gods on Starz. Be ready.
- You know, for a relatively peaceful rapper, Common sure plays some violent types.
- Claudia Gerini steps in as a doomed sister to the villain and lends an impressive air to what could otherwise be a pretty lame stereotypical ‘doomed attractive woman’ role we all know well.
- I’m not totally sure who Riccardo Scamarcio is, or was beforehand, but his slimy foe (and brother to the doomed Gerini, above) oozes entitled villainy and sets up the welcome chaos to come with his dickishness.
- John Leguizamo, you rascal.
- And Friggin Morpheus shows up, basically to let us know he has his own assassin network lurking in the shadows, waiting for the sequel(s). That line from the trailer? “WILL SOMEONE PLEASE GET THIS MAN A GUN?!” landed like few movie lines I have heard outside of the fan-pleasing superhero movie genre. There is a cool, lived-in feeling to the actors’ roles, making his Bowery King a welcome character to have for future installments.
I loved the first movie, and I will be confident in projecting enough to say I think the directing and cinematography teams felt a bit bolder this go ’round because some of the shots are simply unreal. Astounding, really. I could do a post simply of screenshots.
There has been a trend in movies, a Blue-Orange dynamic that has become the norm, thanks to a) it’s eye-catching, contrasting scheme and b) the nature of digital filmmaking. This plays into the notion of ‘hyper-reality,’ mentioned before related to the violence. The sharpness of contrasts, the sharpness in general, even in shadowy scenes, feels visceral, another player in elevating our watching mind from the simple action movie idea.
Beyond any of this over-analysis of what continues to be a study in a revenge action movie, John Wick: Chapter 2, simply put, looks amazing. There is an early shot, when he returns home during a storm, which sees Keanu’s Wick reflected in a series of rain-streaked windows as he exits the foyer, distorting the image of him walking in, beaten up, into something artful and poetically sad.
The whole movie plays with mirrors/reflections, fitting for some of the assassin culture/subcultures explored in the movie. A climatic battle plays out in an art installation, surrounding the players in blue and red hues, reflections and shadows pulsing with the rhythm of… vengeance? Yes, that sounds appropriately badass. I have notes on notes on notes about little camera shots and tricks that delighted me during my viewing. Pulsing lights. Shadowy blue faces moving into flames behind them. Reflections in elevator doors, shimmering, opening and closing. Truly, JW2 feels like a master work of getting one’s brain/blood pumping.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is worth your time and money. That’s the easy statement. The movie pulses with pulpy goodness of dark rooms and blood oath deals, a grimy, violent, dirty world presented with a stunning, clean and sharp lens. The team clearly has an idea for this ‘World of Wick,’ and it is a beauty. I cannot recommend the movie enough and am now in full-fledged support of Chad Staheski’s desire to direct a Bond movie. Sign me up for that.
Header and bottom image via Collider