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.
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.
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.
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.