Movie Review: John Wick: Chapter 2 (Lights, Camera, Action!)

By Leo Epema 17.02.2017 2

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John Wick: Chapter 2 (UK Rating: 15)

From director and The Matrix stunt-double, Chad Stahelski, comes John Wick: Chapter 2, starring Keanu Reeves (The Matrix, Speed), Common (Wanted, Street Kings), and Riccardo Scamarcio (My Brother is an Only Child), among others. You might know gentleman Reeves from the esteemed The Matrix movie series, for which Reeves learned some martial arts. Yes, he has great determination to make the action scenes the best they can be, as he performs the stunts himself. It was even said that he worked eight hours a day to learn the fighting style on display here. On top of that came the choreography. Is it fair to say the action is good? Is it believable? Also, to whom does it try to appeal? Lastly, is there heart behind the action? In other words, do viewers root for Wick, and is there enough drama or suspense?

John Wick: Chapter 2 gets right into some action, with a nice scene of a mobster calling in a favour Wick owed him. Wick refuses with a clearly heavy heart - he knows this man and only wishes him the best, but Wick is retired and seems sick of all the fighting. When he refuses, well… it should no longer be a spoiler that his house is blown up. This time, the dog was somewhere at the back of the house away from the action, and he remains gone. It's a great shame, because the dog is somehow one of the most emotional, sympathetic characters.


 
Reeves does a good job as a tired, conflicted antihero with little to lose. Ian McShane (forever loved for Lovejoy) shines in every scene as a confident, oddly principled and sympathetic hotel owner. Many of the other actors are simply stuck in one emotion all the time as posturing badasses. When the other characters are not trying to be badasses, they appear mostly apathetic and highfalutin. Some of the characters are stereotypes to the core of their being, with a weapons merchant in a high-class hotel acting like a hackneyed British butler type. Another waits at an art exhibition (another crime trope) as though it makes him look cultured. There's no interesting spin to anything they say. The movie doesn't try hard to have entertaining personas - it's all business.

The business (or action) itself is more of the same. In fact, it's a bit too similar to that of the first instalment. If you have seen the first movie, this is nothing fresh. Wick simply shoots the enemies twice, almost in a robotic way. It's all very efficient and professional, sure, but there is a constant feeling that something is missing. Most of the shooting scenes just feel like stage-setting rather than actual dangerous encounters, with Wick expertly dispatching enemies. Considering these movies' success, most people enjoy that type of action, but there's also plenty who won't.


 
At some point, the shooting just becomes mind-numbing as it's the same tune over and over again. A few enemies appear from this side, Wick shoots each one twice while they consistently miss Wick, and then somebody decides to fight him mano-a-mano. Wick, of course, gets off mostly scot-free. Apparently, nobody thought it might be a good idea to take him on, within melee range as a group, or possibly to co-ordinate their efforts otherwise. It all just feels too much like a shooting gallery, to the point where many scenes are literally galleries or hallways. The fact that it plays out at breakneck pace is good, but it remains bland.

Other action scenes make matters worse; for example, one with an art exhibit of mirrors fails to provide the kind of exhilarating tactics and/or surprises that might be expected. This trope of a hall of mirrors has been done to death, and this movie only beats its lifeless corpse. There is a scene in which the camera pivots to the (mirrored) ground to show the reflection of Wick and a bodyguard fighting, but nothing interesting happens - they just continue fighting, grabbing each other and whatnot. The pivot serves no purpose, not even an artistic one. It would be understandable if the camera pivoted to the mirror floor in order to obscure something very painful or gory, or to add some sort of artistic charm by showing blood splattered over the image of the two. Unfortunately, it is just awkward and makes it seem like the cameraman was just a bit tired from holding up the camera.

Another scene, with Wick falling off some stairs, could be interpreted as silly, as he actually falls off three sets of (admittedly steep) stairs, and it doesn't look particularly painful. He just rolls off all three in a way that comes across as pre-planned. It's like the choreography of the scene is noticeable, with slight pauses in-between while the characters don't appear to be doing much. After the third set of stairs, the repetition is worth a groan.

All this sounds very negative, but there are scenes that are more original and do have impact. There's one with a certain pencil trick that's gruesome and well-found, and a scene in a crowd at a music performance stands out as stylish and frantic. That said, there is a lack of a sense of danger or a raising of the stakes, yet again. Wick takes enemies out with little effort. In this scene, Wick again just uses a trusty pistol to efficiently dispatch them, and it leaves audiences wanting more - more spice, more brutality, more tactics… more fun.


 
Why does almost every scene play out indoors (without weather effects) and at melee range? Why is there never any plot twist or an unforeseen twist in the combat situation, requiring him to change tactics? Nothing catches him off guard? When enemies keep coming one by one, often from tactically useless positions, it just gets old. On a more positive note, the fights with Cassian, his rival, are decent, showing not only speed and skill on both characters' part, but also the painful nastiness.

Coming back to the more storyline-related elements, there are quite a few scenes that fail to impress because of how protracted they are, with the characters not saying anything dramatic, emotional, profound, or anything else. Instead, what is left is a character undressing and looking over her shoulder a bit sexily (cliché). The thing is that the movie doesn't put its own stamp on such clichés. It doesn't have much of a specific style, or intelligent writing for its characters. It does make very good use of colours and contrast, providing a nice atmosphere that would have been an excellent setting for a story with intrigue, or simply mind-bogglingly harsh and painful-looking action. However, as said before, the action, while gory, is videogame-like and strangely clinical.

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

Everybody has their own opinions, and they come out with this flick because it's focused and doesn't cater to everyone. John Wick: Chapter 2 plays it safe, providing the same fist-fights and efficient 'despatching' of enemies as the first instalment. Much of the 'bang bang, you're dead' eventually becomes pedestrian, certainly if the enemies' skills don't come close to Wick's. Some of the actionless scenes can leave viewers wondering what the point was, besides progressing through the plot. Their dearth of emotion (also due to lack of character development and relationships) is bad. The end result is mixed, with some scenes standing out as looking painful and stylish, and some being mediocre but fast-paced action fare. Watch it if you want pure action and little investment.

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Don't get me wrong; most people are going to love this movie, certainly if they enjoyed the first one. That said, I simply felt that one big problem with the movie is that the enemies are useless and aren't menacing in the slightest. Many of the fight scenes are stylish, I suppose, with little flourishes of blood sometimes spraying from enemies, most of which happens in a split second while the camera is already in the process of moving away, which doesn't afford much of an impact.

As soon as enemies come into contact with Wick, they die (and in a rather efficient but bland way). This is not how fight scenes work, people! Fight scenes tend to include enemies that, you know, put up a fight.

I think I need to watch the first one again - can't remember much about it at all Smilie

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