A few weeks ago, I received an unusual invitation: would I like to attend the John Wick: Chapter 2 World Premiere in Los Angeles? The answer, obviously, was: Hell yes! I loved John Wick, and have been a longtime fan of Keanu Reeves, Lawrence Fishburne, Lance Reddick, and Ian McShane, not to mention the director of both films, Chad Stahelski (who you can see beside me in this photo from a meeting before the premiere).
I’ll be honest up front. I’m a little biased. My connection to the director, appreciation for the actors, and red carpet (it was black) treatment make my opinions suspect. But I’m a long-time action movie junkie, I write some of the fastest-paced novels there are (so I have a rep to protect), and I am generally an honest guy. If the movie sucked, I’d tell you.
Good news, the movie doesn’t suck. In fact, as much as I enjoyed John Wick, I found the sequel even more compelling, shocking, and action-packed.
The plot, like the first movie, is straight forward. John Wick is the human equivalent of a claymore mine whose enemies crouch down, read the “front toward enemy” text and then yank the wire, unleashing a brick of living C4 and ball bearings in their own faces. The movie starts with a bang as Wick fights to recover his car from the first movie, and not just because he loves the car so much, but because of the memory and precious cargo it contains.
John Wick is a killer, but he also has a heart. Well, a broken heart.
In the wake of his forced non-retirement from the first movie, (yeah, he’s thinking he’s back) a debt is called in on Wick, forcing him a step further away from the peace and quiet he desires so deeply and into direct conflict with an army of thugs, a gaggle of assassins out for his blood, and a mastermind attempting to control a chunk of the underground empire from which John Wick is attempting to retire.
If you saw the first movie, you have an idea of how things play out. The claymore detonates, shredding enemies with slick, stylized “gun-fu” that’s unique to the Wick movies. At 52, it’s impressive to see Keanu kicking, flipping, punching, sliding, driving, and shooting his way through long, uncut fight sequences that feel like violent poetry.
At its core, John Wick: Chapter 2 (like its predecessor) is a mythological story. His life and exploits are the stuff of legend. Like that time he used a number 2 pencil to…well, you’ll just have to see for yourself. He’s Odysseus battling through the Odyssey and being brutalized along the way. Like Odysseus, John Wick even has his very own Argos (dog), who waits for his eventual return.
Visually, the movie is stunning.
Like most of my favorite movies, a lot of attention is given to the composition of every shot. The use of color is vivid and it’s used to affect the audience’s mood as much as the music. I can still see several of the shots in my mind, like paintings I stopped to admire, capturing the movie in a series of key images.
The end of the movie leaves you wanting more. A lot more. And if the film does as well as I think it will, I suspect we’ll see a John Wick 3 on the horizon, which I already mentally refer to as John Wick: Chapter 3: What Have You Done? That will make sense in a few days (after you’ve seen the movie).
So if you’re an action fan, aren’t squeamish around violence and gore, and appreciate gun-fu style fighting, you are in for a treat. John Wick: Chapter 2 is adrenaline-rush fun, beginning to end. It’s not going to make you cry, reconsider your life choices, or believe in a higher power. It’s going to entertain the crap out of you. And that, in this time of recycled movies (John Wick and the sequel are original stories—gasp!) is rare and worth supporting.
News about why I was invited to the event will be forthcoming…eventually. Bide your time waiting by going to see John Wick: Chapter 2!
I give John Wick: Chapter 2, five out of five Nemesis heads.
What do you think? Did you enjoy John Wick? Are you looking forward to the sequel?
Thank you, thank you, thank you! Your excitement about JW2 made me watch the first one, which heretofore I had no desire to do. Only minutes after seeing it I am already planning my day around watching the sequel tomorrow. The first one had me cheering, wincing, laughing, and hungry for more. As always, you deliver (though in this case through recommendation rather than publishing). Color me green with envy that you have already seen the second, and in grand fashion!
I am also excited to hear what else you and Kane were up to on the left coast. My fingers are crossed that good news will soon be forthcoming!
JW2 is everything you said it would be. Some of the camera angles were truly creative yet, unlike in all too many other films, clear enough to keep the action easy to follow. I only have two complaints: the sheer number of assassins in the movie (I am sure you know the scene to which I refer), and it hurt to see them wreck those gorgeous cars!
Once again you’ve hooked me with your words. I am now a John Wick fan, thanks to your recommendation.
Glad you enjoyed it! And sorry it took me so long to reply. WordPress didn’t let me know there were comments.
I think there will be even more assassins in the third movie, at the end of which I think the world will be devoid of assassins. 🙂
Hi, Jeremy! First comment on your blog, and it’s to disagree with you. Which is actually strange, because from what I’ve read from and about you, we very likely agree on a lot! Anyway, thanks for asking, and frankly, I’m glad you enjoyed the movie and the experience. This is my $.02, and it’s worth about as much as the paper it’s printed on. Which, of course, is zero. 🙂
I’m the dissenting voice, probably among all of my peers and most fellow action-fans. You did a good job covering the clearly solid craftsmanship of the film. While JW2 was filmed beautifully, had a solid sense of world-building, and mainly stuck to it’s own ridiculous rules, I honestly felt that it had nothing of substance to say.
Here’s the rub – John Wick, the character, is despicable. Everything he does, and I mean EVERYTHING, is an exercise in selfishness, as far as we’ve been shown. He killed as a living – A good living, as evidenced by his lush home and expensive toys. He found “love”. He got out of the business, and in the process, abandoned his commitments, awful as those commitments were. He gets called on it, and then betrays those he counts as ‘friend’, then has the gall to betray the rules AGAIN, which lands him in an even worse scenario. And never once was his justification anything other than his own self-aggrandizement, even though he never outright stated as much. Which is worse. Never does he admit that he’s not at all a victim of those with whom he’s fighting, but a victim of his own selfishness. We’re meant to sympathize and root for John – Because he likes dogs? Because he’s soft-spoken? Because he once loved someone? Because he ostensibly seeks to change by abandoning murder-for-hire? But he hasn’t changed, at his core. He is still a murderer, a machine with no remorse, pity, or room for others who get in his way.
And thus, the craftsmanship is for nothing. It’s a beautiful house built on sand. It’s an ice sculpture in Nevada with nary a cup in sight. It’s a wedding cake made of concrete.
The only way I could see this movie series be redeemed (And you can bet there will be a John Wick Chapter 3) is if the series ends with John getting a bullet in his head, and maybe if he takes it willingly for another. As it stands, I’m rooting for someone…anyone…to end him, because thus far, he deserves every ounce of his misery.
Live by the sword, die by the same. There’s a truth that’s worth telling. A happy ending for John Wick (as he is now) is a betrayal of truth.
Best to you!
Nas, your points are well constructed and legitimate. There are some I will not argue, though the element of what makes John Wick a sympathetic character is one I will.
Sure, John shows a developing affinity for man’s best friend, but that is not what makes him likeable. Love, more specifically love lost, is. He is a man who sought redemption, who found salvation in the form of a woman who lived in a world far removed from assassinations and in-plain-sight secrecy. She was a direct line to life free from the nafarious dealings of the one in which he had been living. Her death thus cost him greatly, but left him to remain in her world.
The death of the puppy was obviously more meaningful than the simple, yet despicable act itself, and it was more than the loss of the final gift from his dead wife. It’s existence was a tether to the world he had experienced with his love, one in which he sought to remain. In that moment, the tether too was snapped. THAT is the true tragedy of John Wick’s life. He had been cast adrift, severed from the world he so desperately sought to enter, and became anchored by his past as he sunk back into the depths of the familiar underworld.
I do agree with you about his blood oath. If his exit from the underworld was bought with that blood, his return to it should have warranted his compliance. He had lost all ties to the life he had escaped to, so he had no real excuse for reneging on his oath. However, the betrayal immediately after his oath was forcibly honored does justify, in that world, his subsequent reaction.
His decision to conduct business at The Continental was indeed foolhardy and selfish, so on that we agree. He does deserve the treatment he receives at the end, and likely most of what happens if there is a JW3. Still, his return to the life of a killer was tragic, and thus worthy of pity from those of us who wish to lend it.
This was a an awesome movie. Great acting, direction, music, etc. Really well-done. My one gripe is that often, in fights, you can sort of see the bad guys anticipating or waiting for the shot or the hit Reeves delivers. It’s quite easy to see that it’s choreographed. Also, a lot of the bad guys rush into the room with their guns down or appear clearly unprepared for a gun fight.