Thursday, 8 June 2017

Film Review - 'John Wick: Chapter 2'





John Wick's quest for violent revenge may have been the catalyst for much or the action of the first film – but, one thing that becomes apparent very quickly, here, is that John seems to have found himself pushed back into a much more reactive role for the sequel.

In the aftermath of the first film's carnage, it seems that John Wick is eager to return to his retirement – even going as far as to offering to make peace with Abram Tarsov (Peter Stormare), the brother of the previous film's villain, in the opening sequence (though, not without killing a handful of faceless goon on his way, of course). Of course, while John Wick may be done with the criminal underworld once more, it obviously isn't done with him. It seems that, as a direct result of his recent activity, an old contact has decided that now would be the perfect time to call in a favour – and so, despite his obvious reluctance, it seems that John will be required to take on one more contract.

The contact in question is Santino D'Antonio (Ricardo Scamarcio), the son of a deceased crime-lord who hopes to earn himself a place on the 'high table' – the ruling body of this universe's wonderfully outlandish criminal underworld. The only problem, though, is that the spot that Santino intends to claim is currently held by his own sister, Gianna (Claudia Gerini).

Of course, all of this really only covers the film's first act. In the aftermath of John's efforts to fulfil this contract, and finally free himself from his obligations, John also finds himself as the target of a contract of his own – one that sets every assassin that the criminal underworld has to offer after him.

While the premise of this second film may lack the surprisingly emotional angle that the first had, where John's actions had been driven by grief and anger, this second episode makes up for that by delving much deeper into the nature of the criminal underworld than the first film had managed. This is fitting, of course – since those brief glimpses that the first film had offered about the Continental, a hotel which served as a safe haven for criminals, had been its most unique element. Here, for example, we learn that there is actually more than one Continental – as the film's first act finds John in Rome. This stronger focus on the inner workings of this strange world definitely fits with the overall broader scale of the film, as a whole. It serves as an effective way to raise the stakes for John, himself, as he finds himself caught up in a power-struggle that he wants no part of.

The world around John Wick is also populated with even more of the sort of fascinating figures that were featured in the first film. Ian McShane makes a return appearance, as the owner of one of the Continental hotels. But, we also meet John's primary opponents in the form of Cassian (Common), and Ares (Ruby Rose) – fellow assassins who each have a very personal stake in stopping John Wick. Then, there's the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) – an eccentric figure who seems to have formed a kingdom of his own among the homeless of New York. All of this serves to give the world of John Wick: Chapter 2 a grander sense of scale than anything that the first film had been able to manage.

To a large extent, many of the action sequences that take place throughout the film follow the style and substance of the first film – simply taking place on a larger, and more impressive, scale. Considering the quality of the action in the first film, that's hardly a bad thing. The large-scale action sequences, here, certainly do succeed in outdoing those of the previous film – with Keanu Reeves looking even more comfortable in the role of the deadly anti-hero than he was previously. Of course, that being said, there is an occasional repetitive quality to some of the action that I couldn't help noticing – as we see John dispatch the latest faceless goon in a manner very similar to what we have already seen before.

I wouldn't go as far as to say that this is any sort of negative for the film, of course (it is, after all, a direct result of the character having such a strongly developed signature style of combat) – but, there were still moments where I would have preferred a little more variety in the beats of the film's action sequences.

For the third film (since it seems pretty obvious, at this point, that there is going to be a third), I think I would prefer a little less of John Wick mowing down faceless goons who don't really stand a chance against him, and much more of him being confronted by fellow assassins who actually pose a threat. Those moments where, after all, the real high-light as far as the film's action was concerned.

Overall, this is a sequel that has managed to improve on the first in a number of ways. The action scenes are larger in scale and shot with even more impressive choreography, while the details of the fictional world are explored with much more depth. The film, itself, even manages to look better than the first – with its cinematography, and filming locations, suggesting a higher budget that has been put to very good use.

Much like with the first, though, the extent to which this film embraces its own violent nature may be off-putting to some in the audience – but, at the same time, the heightened reality of it all serves to make the rather extreme violence into more of a guilt-free source of gratuitous entertaining, rather than anything truly disturbing. John Wick: Chapter 2 is definitely a worth follow-up to the first film – one that leaves me eagerly anticipating whatever the third film may have in store.

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