Ain’t no rest for the wicked.
Keanu Reeves reprises his seminal role as Boogeyman John Wick, in stuntman turned director Chad Stahelski’s critically acclaimed and commercially successful sequel, John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017).
After already being pulled out of retirement in John Wick following the death of his dog, a gift from his late wife, the mythic Wick once more dons his sleek tactical suit and arms himself with a remarkable array of guns and knives as he is yanked back into the mysterious underworld of assassins for hire.
Intention and execution are often important with a film like this, with audiences and cinema-snobs often complaining that action blockbusters like Transformers are no more than garbage. Garbage it may be, but explosive, thrilling escapism is what they nonetheless aim and achieve to be. John Wick: Chapter 2 intends to be a kick-ass, hyper-violent eye-popper of an action movie, which is succeeds in, tenfold.
That is not to say, however, that John Wick 2 does not delve a little deeper into the myth of the mysterious hitman underworld. As with The Raid 2 to The Raid, here we have an action sequel that builds upon and adds more layers to our protagonist and to the cryptic universe in which he belongs. Action scenes are of course, unapologetically built-in to the narrative to no surprise, but the sequel manages to build the secretive world that we were only teased with in the original film. We learn a little more of how this underworld operates and the hierarchy within, making for genuine intrigue outside of the explosive thrills and bloody spills of the neo-noir action thriller.
Action, stunts and choreography are ultimately the meat and bones of both John Wick instalments, and both films have managed to carve an impressive chunk out of the action genre as it currently stands, outside of the always-impressive martial-arts films of the orient. Choreography in this second chapter is on-point and crafted with masterful precision, only to be presented to us often in brave wide shots that refuse to follow the conventional route of action and choreographed fight-sequences being split into a million confusing frames. Shots are held, letting the audience witness every fluid technique and miniscule action as Wick dispatches countless attackers, with calm and controlled editor Evan Schiff monumentally ensuring that the expertise of Keanu Reeves and the stunt team is not wasted. In this respect, John Wick: Chapter 2 is truly and fundamentally an exceptional example in doing right by a genre.
Of course, there is no John Wick without Keanu Reeves. Jokes have been fired left and right concerning the actor’s wooden demeanor and lack of on-screen emotion since, and though I feel that it is often a little undeserved, this makes John Wick the perfect role for Reeves, in the same vein as Neo also did. In the context of the film and the hardened character, any doubts in his acting ability are cast aside as Reeves steps into Wick’s sharp dress shoes for a second (and hopefully/probably not last) time. Having already directed his own martial-arts centered movie (Man of Tai Chi, 2013) in which he too surprisingly played the villain, Keanu really is the only man one could envision for the job.
What is more is the level to which Reeves, as an actor, dove into the character, learning to precisely wield and use multiple firearms, honing a variety of martial-arts and driving techniques. Hours were spent in training and in John Wick: Chapter 2, as with John Wick, it truly shows as a result. With Common, Ian McShane and Lawrence Fishbourne (marking his and Reeves’ first collaboration since The Matrix trilogy) supporting to grease the wheels of this slicker action flick, the John Wick sequel goes above and beyond typical boundaries.
Heart-stabbing, head-shotting, ball-crushing Reeves aside, cinematography by Dan Laustsen is something of a dream. Conventionally and generically, it is what is happening within the shot that usually matters, with colour, framing and composition often being neglected. Here, however, we are treated to surprising artistry in the context of genre. It is not often that films of this persuasion manage to kick ass so graciously. The Raid 2 (2014), for instance, is visually stunning as well as offering visceral carnage. Tony Jaa’s Warrior King (2005) at least features a jaw-dropping shot long in duration as Jaa ascends a long flight of stairs, and who would forget the wide, flat corridor tracking shot within Oldboy (2003). As well as classical Hong Kong action cinema and the South Korean The Man From Nowhere, these films have positively influenced both the John Wick films and at least some sequences in the Marvel/Netflix Daredevil series in regards to cinematography and I, for one, am truly grateful for it.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is conclusively a stylishly stunning exercise in generic excess done professionally, offering non-stop shock and awe as well as developing the world in which we only gained brief glimpses of the first go round. The filmmakers and stuntman/director achieve what they intended, with no back-tracking and no surrender, with Keanu Reeves serving to provide us once again with a masterclass in action performance. Ambitious intention and flawless execution stamp John Wick: Chapter 2 as a near-perfect genre movie and exceptional sequel.
The Film Fanatic
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P.S.S. Seriously, The Man From Nowhere is a must for fans of Boogeyman John Wick. Watch it.