John Wick 2 (****1/2): You’re always that guy…

John-Wick-2-Keanu

John Wick Chapter 2 – 2017

Director Chad Stahelski
Screenplay Derek Kolstad
Starring Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Claudia Gerini

If it takes away your peace, it’s too expensive. That’s what some wise people say. Even wiser it is to take those taking away your peace with a head-shot or 70. This time they missed the dog with the grenade. But they took out pretty much the whole rest of the house.  And all those pictures of him and his not as recently deceased wife.  And he’d just buried his guns under concrete again…

The most powerful thing about John Wick the character is that he is actually quite convincing as a world-weary and just plain beaten down warrior. Sure, he’s always being brought back for “one more job” but he’s going to be shot, beaten and stabbed along the way, sometimes in the middle of a concert.  And he doesn’t miss. My word does he make sure he hits the target over and over. He is hit enough himself, but bullets that hit his vest just add to the extreme agony. They don’t take away his fire to survive, but they can very much affect his fighting style.

The job brings him to Rome this time, where he has to kill literally dozens of people just to take down one target. Then he gets into a prolonged fight or two. Reeves has been at this game a long time. Seeing him hit by cars, thrown down stars and through windows is remarkable. His dedication to realism is astounding. He is not a young man, but he doesn’t fight like an old one. Just one worn down by experience. He deserves an Oscar nomination for the most believable action star in the last decade…or two.

Meanwhile the bodies pile up. And up. And up.  It’s the highest one man death count I have seen outside of A Better Tomorrow II. The director Stahelski has a remarkable dedication to the art of action. He is growing by leaps and bounds as the trajectory between this film and the last will attest. The confidence is shows in one beautiful set up after another. Every scene is meticulously choreographed, advancing the very basic story as if it were way more complex than it really is. Take away this expertise and this is any of the Liam Neeson films of his recent heyday. Not exactly a put down, to be sure, but you know what I mean.

The last act of the film has an incredible premise that starts with 7 bullets and is as much a puzzling quest for more as it is a hunt for “vengeance.” The ferocity of the jujitsu employed is an agonized symmetry in which everyone’s body weight is carefully applied to make each fight believable.

What is this world of ancient coins and hit men and women waiting on every corner? It the same bullshit we’ve seen for years. There is no secret to this secret society. The key to the whole thing is feeling like Reeves himself believes. And you can see each scratch, cut and gut shot. That says nothing about what you see when you look in his tired, but still resolved eyes. It’s a younger version of what one sees when they look in the eyes of McShane.

(****1/2 out of *****)

Advertisements

John Wick (***1/2): I’m thinking you don’t kill the dog

John-Wick-movie-poster

John Wick – 2014

Director Chad Stahelski, David Leitch
Starring Keanu Reeves,Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe
Screenplay Derek Kolstad

John Wick (Reeves) is a retired hitman / tough guy for the Russian Mob. He got out and nobody really wanted him back in. The Mob Boss’s Son, who amazingly had no clue who he was, makes the mistake of coveting his ’69 Mustang at the cost of his puppy Daisy. Thing is, this puppy was given to him by his recently deceased wife (Moynahan). So this puppy, Daisy, is kind of important. They killed the wrong puppy. So let the ass kicking begin.

This is really all the plot that is need to excuse an hour and a half of carefully choreographed carnage. Wick’s grief is carefully hidden in the wooden countenance of Reeves’ face, expressed only in swift moves and hailing gunfire. That there is nothing going in the character department is of no consequence. Clint Eastwood made a career of these types of films in Western form. The movement is fluid and the bad guys die painfully.

There is plenty of acting talent to go around in this one. Nyqvist has been a staple since The original Dragon Tattoo trilogy. His work here, is a shadow of that classic, not even comparing to his Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol efforts. He does what he can with a “what ya gonna do” shrug and marches through to the inevitable conclusion. It’s a bummer when one realizes that no matter who is playing the bad guy, they aren’t going to make it.

Alfie Allen, who plays Theon Greyjoy in Game of Thrones, is a decent bag of slime. It says something when John Leguizamo won’t touch your stolen goods. Johnny’s looking quite dapper these days, even if he isn’t mid-card level. Willem DaFoe waits in the wings, a seemingly ambiguous hired gun. Ian McShane is an equally mysterious ombudsman of dark side ethics. Dean Winters, mayhem himself, doesn’t register as the bad guy #2.

Really though, none of these actors are given much to do, plot wise. They sit around and stew over the bad decisions of one and then, of course, compound that bad decision while waiting for the town to be painted red.

As the one applying the color, Reeves is a willing vessel. This movie is not intended to win any awards. He needs to live up to the heaping of praise by the characters who know of him expressed to those who are unaware of his talents. To that end, at about the 1/2 mark, they send the first wave of bodies his way to be slaughtered.

How people keep breaking into his house, I have not a clue. Perhaps it was the producers idea. He does not wast bullets, and he does not take chances. His moves, fancy as they seem, are more effective than Steven Segal in his prime. If this acting gig does not work out, maybe he too can pass secrets to MMA fighters. I get the feeling he’s going to be fine, though, if he keeps peppering his track record with sturdy fare like this. He should outlast Neeson by 20 years.

The film has class and it is fun. If one can get past Wick’s mounting injuries and seemingly endless capacity for recovery, it’s delightful to see him order dinner for 12. There is lots of nuance here. Plenty of rules. As long as the toughs stay within their rules, all is fair.

Just don’t kill the dog.

***1/2 (out of *****)