Friday, 3 March 2017

Killing is John Wick's Business and Business is Good

After returning to the criminal underworld to repay a debt, John Wick discovers that a large bounty has been put on his life. 

"John Wick is a man of focus, commitment and sheer fucking will."

Indeed we are all too aware of Wick's relentless nature and remarkable skill set. The biggest compliment I can pay this film is that I lost track of the body count within the first 15 minutes. If that sounds like high praise to you, then you will absolutely love Keanu Reeves' bullet ballet. In the unexpectedly awesome 2014 franchise starter John Wick, Reeves played a legendary hitman who wiped out untold Russian goons because one of them made the mistake of killing his dog and steal his car. 

Keanu Reeves is like a haunted Ronin living by the 21st-century code of the Samurai. There is also a little Matrix reunion between Reeves and Laurence Fishburne, with Morpheus pitching up as a pigeon-fancying overlord to a street assassin network. In fact, there is a laundry list of interesting character actors who keep dropping to spice up the bloodbath, like Fishburne, Common and Ian McShane as the grandmaster of the whole masonic order. 

But it's Keanu Reeves, with his natty suits and icy stare, who grabs you by the throat - figuratively and literally - winding you with intensity, driven by his remarkable athletism and some wonderful choreography. Of all characters Reeves has ever played since hanging up Neo's sunglasses a decade ago, it is probably safe to say he did not expect John Wick to be the one to stick around a little bit longer. Plus, Keanu famously means "cool breeze over the mountains" in Hawaiian. Here it should stand for "cool beard shoots you in the face". 

It must be said, director Chad Stahelski, cinematographer Dan Lausten, production designer Kevin Kavanaugh, stunt coordinator JJ Perry and their teams, are wizards working at the top of their craft. John Wick is one of those movies that sneaks up on you with how clever it is and Chapter 2 pushes those weirdly wonderful choices even further. What this new film does well, is to expand on the underworld network hinted at in the original. Naturally, we return to the Continental. Screenwriter Kolstad, also shows what happens when a hit is put out on someone. Likewise, we get to see more of just how deadly Wick's world is. This idea of a secret world of professional killers adhering to a set of civilised conventions may sound absurd to you but fascinating to me. It is what makes the Wickverse more intriguing and far richer than a usual action movie. 

John Wick takes elements of Greek folklore that appeared in the first film - gold coins - and blow that out into an entire mythologically inspired criminal underworld. Gold coins, like talismans, the guns obviously become swords and the suits become armours. Expanding this world of well-dressed killers beyond New-York in Chapter 2, taking our hero to Rome; which has a much older history. It grounds and gives this world a lot more history and folklore than they could have done in America. "Myth" doesn't just mean "ancient", it means there is a lot of roots to the story and John Wick is just passing through. 

Overall, I have to admit Chapter 2 doesn't quite hit the heights of the original - partly because the element of surprise when it comes to the fight - work is gone. But it builds well upon the original. Characters keep asking if John Wick is back. Yeah... I'm thinking he's back.

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