John Wick 2: Nothing Good Ever Comes from ViolenceFeb 08, 2017
Keanu Reeve’s return as the taciturn hitman, John Wick, begins with an extended fight and chase sequence that displays creative choreography and camera work, drenched in a spray of blood and brain matter. The tone is set, and the message is sent: the first John Wick movie tallied 84 kills. John Wick: Chapter 2 is looking to set a new high score for on-screen deaths.
If that sounds a bit like the popular first-person shooter video games that are so very popular these days, it’s not a mistake. While highly entertaining, JW:C2 ends up feeling like one of the run-throughs of games like Call of Duty or Overwatch. There are moments when the carnage is so relentless you won’t be blamed for looking near the top corner of the movie screen to see what the death toll is.
Reeves is perfectly cast as a grim assassin who just wants to spend his retirement with his dog, his vintage Ford Mustang, and wistful memories of his dead wife. And this sequel to the 2014 introduction to the super-killer is smart, fast-paced, and laced with perfectly-timed humor. As it did in the first John Wick film, the plot revolves around revenge. In Wick’s first outing he was out for payback after the son of a crime lord stole his favorite car and killed a puppy given to him by his dying wife. This time around, an old acquaintance from the past demands Wick honor a debt by taking one last contract hit. Wick is forced into accepting the debt due to the highly-structured and revered rules of what appears to be a hide-in-plain-sight coalition of assassins. Needless to say, the hit goes off the rails, and Wick quickly ramps into vengeance mode.
It’s easy to appreciate the commitment Reeves brings to the physical training required to play this role. The fight choreography is stunning and feels real. Each death is so visceral that you physically recoil from the violence. It’s only a matter of time until you become numb to what’s happening on screen.
Frankly, that’s the problem with John Wick: Chapter 2. It ends up feeling like more of a speed-run through Overwatch or Battlefield with the main character mowing through foe after foe, pausing only to pick up ammo from one of his victims. There’s no doubt that the film will do well, but it has to leave you wondering, particularly in the wake of much of Quentin Tarantino’s work, if this is the natural evolution of the revenge genre: increasingly violent.
The first John Wick movie started slowly at the box office, but was embraced by action movie fans and eventually ended up as a big box office winner. The slim budget naturally caught the attention of studio execs, leading to this sequel, which makes no bones about the fact that we’ll be seeing a John Wick: Chapter 3 sometime over the next couple of years. Here’s hoping that the writers and directors of that edition forego the need for a higher body count in favor of a little more character development.
TOP FIVE REVENGE MOVIES YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT
In the Bedroom(2001): Frank is (Nick Stahl) home for the summer from college, begins a relationship with an older woman (Marisa Tomei). She is separated from her husband, a violent man who ends up killing him. Frank’s parents are crushed first by the murder and then, even worse, by the failure of the legal system. This move is void of the noisy spectacle and emotional manipulation you get in most revenge films. And the resolution, with its ambiguous comment on whether the parents will ever find peace, will leave you feeling uneasy.
The Outlaw Josey Wales(1976): Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, this is a film that continues to influence many modern revenge stories. Set during the post-Civil War era, Wales is a former soldier who just wants to live a simple life as a farmer, husband, and father. After a band of renegade vigilantes slaughter his wife and young daughter, Wales is left with nothing but rage and a desire for vengeance. He finds peace with a group of settlers heading west, but as fate would have it, he crosses trails with the same gang who destroyed his life.
Gladiator(2000): “My name is Maximus Decimus Merdius. Father to a slain son. Husband to a slain wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.” A Roman general (Russell Crowe) is betrayed and nearly murdered by the vicious son (Joaquin Phoenix) of the Emperor. Crowe escapes assassination and follows the bloody Roman Road of Revenge from slave to gladiator. Historically inaccurate and epically satisfying.
The Count of Monte Cristo(2002): A simple re-telling of the classic novel by Alexandre Dumas. The story takes place at the end of the Napoleonic era, where Dante (Jim Caviezel) is betrayed by his best friend (Guy Pearce) and imprisoned for 13 years. Fortunately, his cellmate is a former soldier and priest who spends those years training Dante to channel his fury while asking the deeper questions about God, justice, and life.
Taken (2008): After his daughter is kidnapped Liam Neeson’s former CIA agent Bryan Mills, sums up the emotions of every father who has worried about his daughter’s safety with these iconic words: “I don’ know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom I can tell you I don’t have money, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills that I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now that’ll be the end, of it. I will not look for you. I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you. I will find you. And I will kill you.”