Friday, February 24, 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 (Chad Stahelski, 2017)

After taking care of some loose ends from the first film, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) learns that returning to retirement from being a professional assassin is no easy feat. In JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2, he must make good on the favor he was granted to get him out of the killing business in the first place. Italian crime boss Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) wants to ascend in the underworld and thus calls in John Wick on the blood oath he made. He’s to kill Santino’s sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini). If he refuses, Santino will see to it that John Wick loses his life. If he succeeds, he will most certainly be hunted by any number of his merciless colleagues until they have delivered his death.

Composed with an eye for fight scenes and incessant gunplay that are coherent, JOHN WICK and its sequel aim to resolve the complaints that today’s action films are mostly a flurry of cuts among jostled cameras. Stuntman and stunt coordinator turned director Chad Stahelski showcases what he specialized in with frames that capture the combat from head to toe and sequences that connect the action rather than making them sensation at the expense of legibility. Stahelski highlights a love for stuntmen in an impressively long and funny tumble down multiple sets of steps. He finds humor when hitmen are firing at one another in a public space but using silencers and trying to shield their weapons to keep from drawing attention and setting off mass panic.

Like its predecessor, JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2, brings a graphic novel aesthetic to Hong Kong-styled action of the 1990s. Draped in inky black and steel grey, plus the sepia tone for scenes in the assassins’ hotel The Continental, this is a dark, lush world befitting those populating it. Reeves is magnetic as an anti-hero whose ability to kill is beyond ordinary human ability but is as flesh and blood as those he takes out.

While there’s a lot to like about JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2, there’s also a tedious quality to it that didn’t let the sequel lift off like the original did for me. The world-building in the first film is relatively minimal, just enough for a taste of how things function where killers find neutral ground at a hotel that accepts payment in large gold coins. Derek Kolstad’s screenplay doubles down on that mythology in the sequel, but it clutters what might have otherwise been a lean, mean hail of bullets and fists.

Grade: C

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