So everyone and their dog seems to be lapping up John Wick: Chapter 2 when it came out.
Believe the hype! The best action movie of the century! etc etc…
But I, for one, didn't think it was all that great. In fact, I ended up feeling pretty bored for a large portion of the movie. It was adequate, I guess – not a terrible film by any stretch, but I thought I would try and explain why I felt so underwhelmed.
Firstly: a lack of stakes. Despite taking his fair share of knocks during the film, it seems John Wick is never really in any danger - even more so since he now sports a bulletproof suit (with which you see him occasionally use as a shield in some sort of hilarious Dracula impression). Enemies seem to just run into his line of fire, or wait patiently for their turn to engage him in hand to hand combat. Rarely does he meet someone who gives him a decent challenge, the only person coming close is Common’s character Cassian, who ends up being dispatched long before the climax of the movie.
Secondly: a lack of motivation. The first John Wick film worked so well because the premise was so straightforward: A guy is wronged (his dog killed and his car stolen) and so spends the majority of the film enacting his revenge. It’s simple and effective. Chapter 2? Not so much. It goes more like this: someone asks him to do something for him, he refuses despite not asking what that particular thing is and knowing full well what the consequences of breaking said oath might be. So the guy makes good on his promise, blows up his house, John Wick agrees to work for him anyway(!?), does what the man asks him to do, ends up being betrayed anyway (obviously!), then spends most of the rest of the movie killing everyone else who is now trying to kill him.
It’s needlessly daft and convoluted, most of it barely making sense when examined even in a cursory fashion. Why not go straight after the guy who blew his house up? (It would have been more in line with his mode of operation in the first movie). Why can’t he just disappear after he survives his house explosion (as he clearly wants out of the life of a killer and is now presumed dead)? Why does Lawrence Fishburne only give him 7 bullets (not that helpful) when clearly he has already made up his mind to help him and would benefit from him surviving in order to wipe out the competition and to owe him future favours? Why is Ruby Rose built up to be this awesome badass and yet we never see her fight anyone until the very end of the film (her fight with John Wick ends up being a disappointingly brief affair).
It seems that the film is constantly putting style ahead of sense, with many ‘oh wouldn't this be cool if...?’ moments instead of any real substance.
I’m not usually one to decry senseless violence (I have absolutely no problem with violence in movies, games, comics and what have you given it's given the right context), but it’s kind of worrying how a film in which you see a hundredth nameless bad guy get judo thrown and then shot in the head is still getting rave reviews all over the shop. I appreciate that there is too much in the way of watered down ‘action’ movies in recent times (as a lower rating means wider audience at the box office), but just because something is refreshingly violent doesn't mean it should be automatically considered good. There’s just not enough decent story or motivation behind it all. Besides, with the likes of Deadpool and Logan being critically and commercially successful, it seems a new wave of R-rated action films could be just around the corner.
Just to re-iterate: I actually didn't mind the first John Wick film. It seems the second is trying to ape parts of it, without really understanding what made it work. For example: he has a dog in this one too, but only in a handful of scenes, and it spends most of the time being ‘looked after’ off-screen by another character. John Wick also goes to rescue his car (using another car that looks pretty similar in the opening of the film) but then proceeds to smash up said car in the process. The subtitles tailored for idiots also make an unwelcome return: (‘We MUST highlight random words, and have them floating around different parts of the screen, so the audience doesn't GET bored with READing them’), is all I can think of when I see them.
Even rent-a-baddie Peter Stormare collects an easy cheque in a cameo role that loosely ties back to events in the first film. Again, it seems he is just there to remind the audience of how ‘legendary’ the reputation of John Wick is and how he has been given the nickname of ‘Baba Yaga’ or ‘The Boogeyman’ because he is so frightening. And yet we never see anyone actually being frightened of him. EVER. Of the hundreds of cannon fodder enemies that rush him, not a single one ever hesitates for even a second.
For all the talk of “oh – but this one expands on the mythos of the world of assassins so much more!”, there is precious little that is actually brought to light. In fact, so many more questions are raised instead. What is the significance of the coins exactly? Do all hits get paid in them? Why does a bulletproof suit cost a similar amount in coins as a single drink at the bar of the Continental? What benefit does Lawrence Fishburne have for disguising himself as a homeless man? Why does Winston have a soft spot for John Wick and bends the rules for him when he is so absolute with everyone else (note Perkin’s death in the first film)? Who runs the hitman agency that everyone is supposedly a part of and why do they use oldschool wire switchboards and exclusively employ hipster chicks?
I have a nagging suspicion that much of this will just be answered by: ‘cos that’s friggin’ cool right?’, and be left at that.
I hate being so negative about any film - but I feel I need to redress the balance and express my surprise at how much praise this film has been getting. And to be fair the film did have a few good moments (seeing John Wick finally dispatch some goons with a pencil, the confrontation with Gianna, the extended tussle with Cassian, Peter Serafinowicz!)…. We need more of these kind of scenes – there is only so much shooting yet another nameless henchman in the head you can take before it starts to get mind-numbingly repetitive.
Props to Keanu though, he is over 50 now and his stunt work and physical dedication in this is incredible. Although he has seemed to fully embrace the character, I can’t help but feel he was given the opportunity to show a lot more range and emotion in the first film.
So I didn’t hate John Wick: Chapter 2, but didn't like it all that much either. It’s a case of too much style without the substance to match. Shouldn't we be demanding more in terms of character, meaningful action, motivation and story to go along with it all?
10th March 2017