John Wick 2 (2017)
What’s your ideal blend of munitions for an action movie? For me it has to be some incendiary concoction of superb acrobatic choreography, coherent and concise spatial editing, destructive characters and situations, and carnage strewn quipage. John Wick 2, the inevitable sequel to Keanu Reeves post Matrix return to form nails three out of four of these targets, in what for me was a far more successful movie than 2014’s inauguration of this erratic franchise. Still in mourning for his wife and with a new canine companion in tow the film prologues with a splattery slaughter, as John (Reeves) retrieves his stolen vehicle from the clutches of the Russian mob. With equilibrium restored chaos is immediately reinstated with a visit from an old friend, ambitious Italian crime lord Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio). This underworld underboss establishes himself as this episodes hissable baddy, when he calls in a blood stained marker to honour an old oath that Wick had enshrined in order to once and for all escape the life. Wick refuses, his home is torched, and events are set in motion .for a final faceoff which will shake the syndicate to its core.
Like the other movie I saw today it took me some time to get into the groove of this picture, as the initial return to this shadowy world of secret assassination cabals was loaded with a magazine of misfiring clichés and dialogue dum-dums. before finally gaining some ground as the locations shifted. As the plot weaves between New Jersey to Rome some continental sophistication is injected, as quite honestly some of the barque production design and lighting orchestrations in this movement are the equal of a Ridley Scott picture. Speeding up the momentum the action sequences are tagged thick and fast, leaving a flash-bang concussion, especially when the Wick bivouacs back in Manhattan for a frankly hilarious montage of mayhem. Fending off assaults from a phalanx of professionals, after a double cross leaves him with a sizeable bounty on his shrapnel scarred scalp, we finally see the measure of that myth about John slaying three goons in a bar with just a pencil…..
I do love the world-building in this freshly fractured franchise, the second movie opens up the idea of some global crime syndicate operating across borders and nations, yet still retaining some strictly enforced semblance of honour among thieves in the ideological infrastructure. This proves quite important from a narrative perspective and powers much of the films pleasing plot pivots, as we also get to see some of the wider organisation and engineering of the cabal’s homicidal industry. Film nerds will crack a faintly ominous smirk at the appearance of Franco Nero as the Italian counterpart to Ian McShane’s returning Manhattan based administrator, and it was also fun to see Keanu reunited with a special cameo guest who is probably plastered all over the trailer – watch at your peril. If only they’d managed to muster a few good quips or dialogue detonations this could have been a real blast, and Keanu’s stoic shtick wears a little thin by the closing stages, but then again any criticism of him would surely be suicidal….
Now, like any good safe-space supporting, shrieking special snowflake liberal I did approach this (like the first film) with a slight mistrust of the unapologetic fetishisation of weapons and firearms in the movie. In that respect the film can be judged to be quite pornographic, and quite frankly this is as its coagulating reputation suggests one of the most violent films I have ever seen. This is compounded in the context of recent Hollywood fare being more targeted on CGI aliens and mecha being ruthlessly exterminated, rather than a seemingly endless parade of flesh and blood henchmen whom Keanu scythes through like a flamethrower through an orphanage. I dunno, after recent events and especially this week’s White House ‘press conference’ I’m assured we won’t be around in 18 months to worry about such trivial matters, and complaining of such in the current context is to quote Michael Herr’s delicious narration in Apocalypse Now like ‘handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500’…..
From a technique standpoint all the set-pieces are framed within fully digestible masters, delineating a clear relationship between space and the hordes of opponents – clear, concise and carnivorous. Hell, it’s just so heartening to see director Chad Stahelski (a former stuntman) and Gareth Evans of The Raid movies, these conjurors of chaos fighting toward a definitive new action genre aesthetic, abandoning the exhausted shaky-cam incoherence which may have finally been liquidated after last year’s turgid Jason Bourne. For some bizarre reason Enter The Dragon popped into my head as I was thinking through one of the slower umbilical plot sections, only for Wick 2 to directly homage and mirror (heh) the climax of that classic, in probably the most electrically executed battle sequence since The Raid 2 a couple of years ago – they must have spent months digitally scrubbing all traces of the Steadicam operators from that hallucinatory hall of mirrors. Inevitably the film flanks to a final trilogy circling sequel, no surprise since the picture has already recouped its astonishingly under ordinanced $40 million budget – man, that wouldn’t cover the kerosene budget on the imminent Transformers picture. Thoroughly recommended for the action choreography alone this is a superior calibre to its initial sortie, and we can only hope that Stahelski and his screenwriting imps manage to out-carnage themselves for one final explosive franchise finale in 2019;