Stylish, brutal, and a great object lesson in inflexible rules and unchecked power. Oh… and wonderful counter-programming for Valentines Day!
This is that rare event where the sequel is actually better than the first movie. The first chapter of this soon to be three part tale was a rocky start. After the initial brutality of the opening, it was really just a violence fest (however creative). Still it was fun and creative enough to bring me back for round 2.
Director Stahelski and writer Kolstad ran with what they started and built on it. The violence remains matter-of-fact. You don’t get to revel in it (with one exception). Killing is a necessity but not necessarily entertaining like we’re used to in films. Most movies use the fight choreography as a reason to cheer or show how clever the hero (or antihero) is. Jack Reacher, for instance, has pauses and moments so you can enjoy the fight and support the cleverness and prowess of the violence. It is a form of catharsis, but one that diminishes the reality of actions. Wick, on the other hand, just keeps going, putting bullets and knives in bodies as he wades out of the shark tanks he keeps finding himself in. It isn’t something he is proud of, it is something he just has to do to survive. He even actively attempts to avoid killing if he can by giving people choices. On this point Reacher and Wick are similar, but it really more the way the fights are directed that sets Wick apart from most action films.
This chapter of Wick’s saga picks up pretty much from the end of Chapter 1. The short opening act brings that previous story to a close while providing the necessary background and reminders to re-illuminate the world. Then there is a brief respite. Hey, it’s John Wick, of course it is brief. This is where the new movie leaps ahead of its predecessor. We have a real, believable reason for Wick’s jumping back into the fray. And it is quite the fray. Keanu Reeves (The Neon Demon) is back full-force.
Intersecting with him for various reasons and in various ways are bevy of interesting characters. Ian McShane (Hercules), Lance Reddick (Bosch), and Common (Suicide Squad) on sort of the side of right, and Riccardo Scamarcio (London Spy), and Ruby Rose (Resident Evil: The Final Chapter) aligned against him (or against him moreso?). However you slice this it is Wick vs. just about everybody thanks to the rules of the trade and a lack of flexibility to those rules when someone abuses them.
There are two obvious moments that could have easily defused or changed everything in this script, but they were avoided. One is a scene with Common and the other McShane. Each could have changed the tide but neither could see beyond the rules as they had always applied them.
Admittedly, these issues could be seen as flaws in the script, or they could be seen as the point. I prefer the latter. This is a society in decay and impending ruin brought on by its own choices and issues. The rot at the core of it are the shadowy, powerful folks at the high table. As Chapter 3 comes along, I expect to see a razing of the landscape and a new order rise, but that’s just a guess.
The thing you need to really understand about John Wick is that while the movies are great rides, they aren’t gleeful at all. You leave breathless but a bit put off and yet rooting for Wick all the way. I respect that the violence isn’t directly celebrated, even if it actually is and we do. The movie is a conundrum, but I think in a positive way. Violence and actions have consequences in Wick’s world. And he takes a serious beating trying to navigate it all; we just get to ride it out, arms in the air and screaming gleeful, bloody murder.