John Wick: Chapter 2
John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Notice how nearly every action sequence is shot as if it were a dance. During hand-to-hand combat, limbs move with urgency, purpose, precision; torsos accumulate tension and respond to every action and reaction; appropriate facial expressions accompany each damaging blow to the body, whether it be a punch, a bullet, a serrated blade. Meanwhile, the camera sashays around the violent seizure, at times paired with an energetic soundtrack while other times daring to be silent. We are forced to listen, wide-eyed, full of nervous energy and anticipation to every blow, desperate shuffling, and the inevitable wince of pain.
“John Wick: Chapter 2,” directed by Chad Stahelski, shares a similarity with Gareth Evans’ “The Raid 2: Berandal” in that it is superior to its predecessor in just about every way. While the picture is still about a former assassin (Keanu Reeves) once again thrown into the world he wishes to retire from permanently, the story finds new ways to maintain our attention not simply in terms of highly volatile action sequences but also in learning more about the rules the assassins choose to follow in order to have the privilege of accessing certain resources so that they may survive and thrive within their universe. In a way, we learn about a community and their culture.
There are a few interesting choices that others might consider to be flaws. Not in my eyes. For instance, during numerous shootouts, knife fights, or simply two people pummeling each other to the ground, the onlookers usually do not respond in an expected way. While we are able to hear screams of terror and see people running away in the background, notice how the extras on the foreground tend to stay where they are. They look so casual, expressionless, as if these sort of fights were something they saw every day. I was amused that at times the violence on screen looks either like a “Street Fighter” game or a third-person shooter game. More impressive is that somehow it works as a surreal mixture of both.
The decision to minimize chaos leads to a cleaner look and so we can easily focus on those we should be paying attention to. Wide shots work just as well as tighter shots. The tension escalates as the camera keeps still. We count the number of beats until the moment the fighters finally make physical contact. And when they do, the battle is usually well-choreographed, the timing defined and exacting. We believe that John Wick is truly capable of killing a hundred men even though he is far from invincible.
“John Wick” offers joyous and superfluous entertainment. While an argument can be made that it is less realistic than the picture that preceded it, an equally compelling argument can be constructed that this film is a natural extension by taking realism and pushing it toward an extreme that we may even laugh at it at times. It is meant to be over-the-top so no one can say that this is simply a rehash, a mere cash grab.