Movie Review: John Wick 2

(No Spoiler Review)

I am a guy and I grew up in the eighties.  That meant that I grew up loving action movies.  Arnold Swarzennegger and Bruce Willis movies were the films I enjoyed the most.  Over the top gunplay, witty dialogue, and lots of explosions were the rule of the day and those films delivered.  One of my favorite memories was skipping school and going out with a friend to see Total Recall.  I paid for it but so worth it.

Then I grew up and stopped loving action movies.  As my tastes got more sophisticated, I began to realize the vapid nature of many of the ‘stories’ and the physical impossibility of many of the actions I was seeing on the screen.  As weapons became part of my life, I started to see the patent ridiculousness of the firearms usage.  Worst of all was the sameness of every story I saw.  In the middle of explosions and gunplay in lieu of story, I paradoxically realized I was bored.  Because I was bored I stopped watching.

Then I saw the first John Wick and was floored.  Finally, an action movie with style.  The story was minimalistic but every scene was shot with loving care.  Keanu Reeves, a guy with much presence and limited range finally found the perfect role – an antisocial killer quietly grieving his lost wife.  And the gunplay – I was thrilled to see a movie with realistic magazine changes, firing technique, and authentic fight scenes.

I'm thinking he's back.
I’m thinking he’s back.

I pleased to say John Wick 2 delivers more of the same while fleshing out the mythos.  The first movie introduced a world of contracted assassins and a baroque system of sanctuary, obligation, and a code of honor among the killers of the world.  It didn’t go into much detail but it was there and the second movie expands on it in major ways.  Instead of a personal struggle, you quickly realize there is a larger story of dueling assassins attempting to either save their system or tear it down.  It is an added layer which elevates the movie.

The strange thing though is how JW2 approaches the new layer – it doesn’t talk about it much.  The director keeps the focus on John’s journey and is content to let the larger story inhabit the background where it can be seen and heard but not overpower the real reason why people came – to see John Wick kick ass.

It is clinched to describe well-choreographed fight scenes as ‘ballet’.  I rather think of the scenes here as opera – an intricate stage play of drama, physicality, and setting where every single shot is packed with interesting details, lighting, and dense with background information.  The technical aspects of gunplay and hand to hand fighting are as exceptional as they were in the first but the increased focus of luscious sets and larger drama create a tapestry which was fascinating to behold.

I won’t spoil the movie at all except to say you need to see the first movie if you haven’t seen it.  This is clearly a middle movie and the ending is a cliffhanger for the expected third part of the projected trilogy.  As for me, I don’t think I have changed my opinion on action movies as a whole – but I have all the time in the world for this story and I highly recommend you make time for this film.

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