Seen May 20th
Before I get into this, some disclosure. I did not see the first John Wick. I’ve never really been that big of a fan of Keanu Reeves. I liked him in Bill & Ted, Speed & The Matrix but outside of those three, he just never really grabbed me. I think it might be that he suffers from the same thing Matthew McConaughey suffers from… namely, I feel he’s stuck in perpetual stoner mode and I just can’t buy him as anything else. So when I heard about the first John Wick I just kinda looked away cos it didn’t seem like the movie for me. Well this year when I turned 29 I decided I was going to make myself go to a movie every week and I’m working on sticking to that, which meant that I was pretty much signing myself up for going to go and see John Wick Chapter 2 purely to keep my promise to myself. I still haven’t seen part 1 so I have no real frame of reference to know if this is repeating things or a step down, I’m only able to judge it based upon its own merits.
Its merits are pretty damn impressive.
John Wick 2 starts with John going to get his car out of a chop shop. Thankfully this scene has a moment in it where it explains the key bullet points of the last one so it never really feels like you’re missing anything truly important. It also does a pretty amazing job of reintroducing the character of John Wick. For a large amount of the beginning scenes of the movie they do a lot of backlighting, keeping John in shadows and it works wonderfully. It makes him feel like a force of nature, he’s there and he’ll kick ass and go home with his car… what’s left of it anyway. It’s not just a great set piece with the stunt work, but I appreciate that they set the character up and fill us in on the key info without it feeling like it’s just there for us newbies.
I really like the action sequences. They aren’t shiny and polished like a lot of action films are, they make sure every hit causes damage no matter what is being hit. John never really feels like he’s able to just get up and shake it off, if he gets injured it matters. He get’s stabbed in the leg at one point; he’s limping for pretty much the rest of the movie. It’s a little touch that is so often overlooked in these kinds of movies. They might have a scene AFTER a set piece where the hero licks his wounds but it’s nice to see a movie not only have someone injured mid fight, but it doesn’t heal up in 20 minutes like nothing happened.
Also god damn did they get one hell of a great cast. Ian McShane is just not holding back in his scenes, he’s not just here to cash a paycheck. Him, Laurence Fishburne and Ruby Rose really are the highlights for me because each of them have such presence. Laurence is just having so much fun and you can tell every scene he does means everything to him. It’s also just nice to see him and Keanu working off each other again after The Matrix, although Fishburne does kind of act circles around Keanu (I’ll get to that). Ruby Rose is really impressive in her scenes playing a mute assassin. With no actual lines and just a few bits of sign language, she manages to not only sell the idea that she’s one of the deadliest people John will have to face but she is surprisingly intimidating.
Visually the film is pure perfection, shots are framed perfectly and you never really feel lost about who is where. Well, OK, you do in one scene that takes place in a giant hall of mirrors BUT you’re clearly meant to be lost. It’s one of the more impressive scenes, if for no other reason than the fact that they managed to hide the goddamn camera when they’re in a hall of mirrors. There’s also some trick shots, including a glorious POV shot that you think is looking at John but is actually from John’s POV. I just hope that Dan Laustsen get’s an award of some kind for the cinematography work he did because it’s goddamn stunning.
Now there is one problem I have, and it’s a problem I’m sure only I have but it is a problem… Keanu. When the guy isn’t talking, when he is just a presence on screen I buy what he’s selling. If you told me that Keanu just learned all these insane fight moves and was actually a secret assassin that they caught on film, you could sell me on that. What you can’t sell me on is any scene he has to speak. Specifically any scene he has to act against Ian or Laurence. I’m sorry, Keanu can’t match them and it does make some moments in those scenes feel weird to me. I’m watching Laurence owning the screen and being this larger than life personality, cut to Keanu who has been replaced by a house plant. It’s jarring. And if he’s working off Ian? Ian is giving 150%, Keanu’s stuck at 75%. Of course when he’s in scenes by himself or doing action sequences, he’s fine. He’s just acting against better actors and it shows.
Also I’m not really happy that they put one of the final shots of the film into the trailer, I’m not going to say what shot it is but suffice to say that what I thought would be a really cool moment at the halfway point becomes less cool cos it’s right at the end… which is an obvious cliffhanger for part 3, which they are working on.
All in all though, it is a really good movie. If you liked the first I’m going to assume you’ll enjoy this but if you didn’t see the first, I’d say give the second a go because it’s still a fun movie. And I now have to put seeing the first one on my to do list.