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John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

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I'll admit that I immediately dismissed the first John Wick film when it was released back in 2014.  Although I'm a big fan of Point Break (1991), Speed (1994), and The Matrix (1999), it's fair to say that Keanu Reeves' more recent releases have been pretty disappointing.  The idea of seeing a film about an ex hitman out for revenge after someone kills his dog didn't inspire me with confidence either.  However, having heard lots of positive things about the action sequences Charlotte and I grabbed the DVD ahead of the release of it's sequel and thought it was a huge amount of fun.  It's a franchise that knows exactly what it's about: thrilling action with it's excellent stuntwork from it's lead actor, and it does it really well.  Laurence Olivier he ain't, but Reeves is a brilliant physical actor who throws himself in to a role (often literally), and this is a film that plays to those strengths.  Thankfully Chapter 2 is more of the same, so the inevitable third can't come soon enough.
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Chad Stahelski, Keanu Reeves and the thrilling gun fu action sequences are all back, and this time there's something of a plot too.  Don't get me wrong, if I had a dog as cute as that, and Russian gangsters killed it and stole my vintage Ford Mustang I'd be pretty upset too.  Unluckily for them, the first film tells the story of them doing that to a widely feared ex hitman: John Wick.  In it's sequel Wick is forced to go on the run after a bounty is placed on his head and there were a lot of things that reminded me of The Raid 2.  While Gareth Evans' The Raid (2011) plot was an excuse for multiple breathtaking martial arts sequences, it's follow up added in a compelling story about corrupt police officials and a criminal underworld.  Sound familiar?  John Wick: Chapter 2 delves deeper in to the underground world of hitmen and gangsters that the first film touched on, and this was a theme I really enjoyed.  There are rules and laws which these people live by, they have their own currency, inhabit every organisation and are walk right alongside us.  When a text goes round to inform this network that there's a reward to whoever kills Wick's it's unnerving how many apparently normal civilians answer their phone.

Everyone that enjoyed the first John Wick film will have had a minimum expectation for more of the same with it's follow up.  Thankfully the quality of the choreography is absolutely superb again (even if there are so many head shots it often feels like Reeves is playing a shoot-em up game on easy mode), and thankfully the inclusion of a more well rounded story and character motivation hasn't diluted that.  The action is absolutely breathtaking, and shot so as to show off that more often than not, it's the leading man that is doing much of it himself.  As Chris Stuckmann highlights in his video on the subject, there is a pandemic within action films where their creators cheat it's audience with confusing jump cuts that rely on your imagination to fill in the gaps... *cough* Taken *cough*:



The John Wick and The Raid series' are the antithesis to that problem.  Chapter 2 opens with a Buster Keaton film (the daddy of physical acting and stuntwork) being projected on a building wall, and it's that legacy in cinematic action that they're proud to continue.  Both John Wick films go out of their way to make a point that Reeves is the one landing the punches and making the head shots with long, continuous shots.  There was one shot in particular where Wick carries out a screeching handbrake turn round a tight bend.  As the driver's door has already come clean off (naturally), it is undeniably Keanu Reeves behind the wheel and that makes for a much for thrilling ride as an audience.  As well as the use of those long shots of hitmen beating the crap out of each other, there's some stunning cinematography to admire at the same time. Lighting and symmetrical shots that wouldn't look out of place in a Wes Anderson movie make this a great looking film.  The pinnacle of that from both films was Chapter 2's shootout finale in a museum of mirrors.  They make the most of the wall to wall mirror maze in the choreography and aesthetics in a scene that reminded me of The Man With The Golden Gun's (1974) finale, but turned up to 11.
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Having had quite a lot of denser Oscar nominated films to work through these last few weeks, we were looking forward to an easier, if no less entertaining, watch and John Wick: Chapter 2 certainly did just that. My knowledge of gun fu goes as far as having seen John Woo's MI:2 (2000), and Face/Off (1997), but to me it's a style rarely seen, and a refreshing change. John Wick is a bit of a throw away popcorn movie that's a lot of fun while you're in it (for some reason I can't stop thinking it would make a brilliant movie to have on in the background of a house party). It's nothing more than that but then it isn't trying to be. It ticks all of the boxes asked of it, and then some with its originality, and I can't wait to see the inevitable third chapter.

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