Sunday, June 25, 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

The killerest of all killers, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) murders a whole bunch of Russian gangster led by Peter Stormare using the same crappy Russian accent (note to producers: people in Sweden have a language of their own you might know as Swedish; it’s not Russian, perhaps on account of Sweden not being Russia) he puts on in American Gods because they stole Wick’s car and the picture of his dead wife in it.

Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), apparently the guy in the giant crime conspiracy that seems to control everything in these movies who allowed Wick to retire from the killing biz with said wife, sees this as a signal that Wick has come out of retirement. Seeing as Wick has a ritual debt to him these murder clowns call a Marker, Santino presses our “hero” to murder the gangster’s sister (Claudia Gerini) for him because she has inherited the family seat at the high table of the giant criminal conspiracy he’d rather have for himself.

Wick declines, so Santino blows up his house (and apparently all photos of his wife, because Wick seems not to know about the digital world). Afterwards, Wick changes his mind, pretty obviously planning to kill the sister and pay his debt and then give Santino his mind (in form of a bullet or a hundred) about blowing up his house and his photos. I probably don’t have to explain the rest of what happens in the film.

I love big dumb action movies as much as the next guy (the cheap ones probably much more than the next guy) but I didn’t really warm to the first John Wick. Mostly, if I remember right, I found the film’s all-out action attack rather exhausting with too many moments of the film showing off instead of letting the action flow naturally. I’m also pretty sure that film’s idea of what’s cool and mine are very different ones. So it comes as a pleasant surprise to me that I rather liked the second film in the series, despite it being directed by the same guy in Chad Stahelski and written by Derek Kolstad again.

Well, I thought the prologue with Wick murdering the Russians was just as annoying as the first John Wick, but afterwards, I very quickly found myself warming to a film that clearly has fun adding somewhat bizarre flourishes to the gangster secret conspiracy bits of the first movie. It’s obviously all very comic book-y, but in a way that works well as a backdrop for a film whose hero is deadly with a pencil (not to speak of guns) and that features exalted characters like Laurence Fishburne’s Bowery King, a variation on the old beggar king concept, or scenes like a shoot-out in an art exhibition/cabinet of mirrors.

Unlike in the first film, this John Wick doesn’t seem to feel the need to try so hard to demonstrate how cool and loud and so on it is, so there’s even time for several ten minute blocks where nobody gets shot (or stabbed, or exploded – you get the drift) which the film uses for some fun additions to its over the top world. The characterisation and dialogue is still over the top too, of course, but that fits the context here well, too. The action itself I like much better this time around. Things haven’t become any less spectacular and physically dubious, but Stahelski’s direction seems much more clear and focused, without ever losing a sense of excitement and unironic silliness. The videogame influences on the action are much less shoved into the viewer’s face, too. As a matter of fact, Chapter 2 suggests that you can indeed use elements of third person shooters in an action movie in interesting ways.

So what’s not to like? It’s fun, it’s violent, it’s over the top without being annoying and even Keanu seems to be awake most of the time.

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