Mind is feeling a bit fried after this one. So much action, so much shooting, all at a frenetic pace that doesn’t let up. That’s both a pro and a con. I do believe there is such a thing as too much action in a film. And I know I’m not the only one who thinks this, just ask any Michael Bay-hating asshole. I’ll get back to the overabundance of shoot-em-up beat-em-up action in a minute.
So, how does it compare to the first one? It depends on the mood I’m in. Could be considered better, could be considered worse, could be on-par. Either way it’s close. The first film was simple in concept and execution. Guy’s wife’s dog gets killed, he seeks revenge and gets it. Roughly 2-3 major action scenes which each last around 5 minutes, and a few smaller ones scattered about during the second half. The action scenes didn’t overstay their welcome, but the film starts to fatigue during the last 20 minutes. The stakes never really felt like they were being raised after a point, and the characters didn’t seem to be developing any further than we’ve already scene. Plus the first film kinda let’s us know where we’re headed during the opening act where it shows us a portion of the ending. At least it’s not as bad as that Thai film The Legend of Suriyothai, where it just flat out shows and tells us the main protagonist is going to get killed at the end of the movie. Makes it seem pointless to warn viewers that a review contains spoilers when a film does that. I’ll eventually get around to Suriyothai on a later date.
Anyway, this sequel, on the other hand, improves on some of those aspects. The plot develops in interesting ways, and the character’s fate is continually in question with the stakes being raised throughout. The motivation is less on the ridiculous side, but in all fairness I didn’t mind that aspect in the first film. Hell, the second film even builds upon that notion, on just how little it takes to set Wick off on a shooting rampage. But while as the theme of the last film was about grievances and the significance of the past, this film is all about the consequences of vengeance. A combination of sins of the past coming back to haunt Wick, as well as the consequences of his current actions damning him even further. It’s a theme which brings much more impact than the simplicity of the first film. A home burned. Doing a job he knows he shouldn’t do which sows consequences that he reaps soon afterwards. And much of this is complimented beautifully by the lighting and the set designs which are incredible at times. The scenery, the locations, they all drive home the mood and theme wonderfully. One of the best looking things I’ve ever seen in a film like this which has every right to be just another B action film, but elevated to a higher status because of it. It makes the night club sequence from the first film seem like warm up practice in comparison.
And the action scenes, pretty much on-par with those from the first film, but in greater quantity. The quality is generally a small step up. The takes are a tad longer, the shots less shaky and close, but they’re mostly similar to that of the first film. The biggest surprise when the first film came out is not only a film that actually manages to shoot action sequences very well (not enough films manage to do that, so it’s a pleasant surprise in that regard), scenes which managed to be realistic with the reloading and continual shooting of people in the head to take them down. Other than that, the main standout moment from the first film for me personally was second time Keanu Reeves faced off against Daniel Bernhardt.
So what unique moments are in this film that provide unique moments that set it apart from the shoot-em-up beat-em-up style (I’ll just refer it it as gun-fu from here on) from the first film? Aside from the locations (which again, look fantastic) the action is shot at (yes, that’s a pun), there is a scene where we see Wick kill men “with a fucking pencil”.
And the actor/rapper Common, despite my reservations, actually does a decent job in the role and has some pretty fun one-on-one duels with Wick. Makes for a decent enough substitute for Daniel Bernhardt when filling out that kind of role. Although, all things considered, I really hope they pick Michael Jai White for a role like this next time if they make a sequel. Or Scott Adkins. Both those guys deserve to be in films that will actually respect and utilize their martial arts talent. Everyone else seems to fit in just fine. Well, mostly. I found Peter Stormare to be a tad bit distracting. However, his role is very brief and only in the opening moments, and meant more for tongue-in-cheek purposes and a callback to the Russian from the first film.
Then there’s the plot.
John Wick is more or less forced to do an assassination job to honor a blood oath. A job he didn’t want to do. He thought he was done with the past. But like Swearengen said in the previous film, “You dip so much as a pinky back into this pond… you may well find something reaches out… and drags you back into its depths.” I anticipated the sequel would build upon that line, and it didn’t disappoint. And upon completing a job he didn’t want to do, a job he knew was a bad one, killing someone he didn’t want to kill, that results in all hell breaking loose. And Wick seeks vengeance from there, as he usually does, and that only makes his predicament worse and worse, and he becomes more and more desperate as time goes on. What kind of worse are we talking about? In that a contract is put on John Wick (much like in the first film, only with a higher price on it), and many more assassins decide to come after him compared to the first film. So many more that he just can’t seem to handle it on his own.
He is left alone, seemingly friendless, without any allies to turn to, whether they be dead in the first film, or turned against him due to his actions by the end of this one. The world is against him. His dream of a peaceful life of retirement lies in ruins. How much is brought about because of his own actions from this film? How much because of the sins of the past? How much because he is damned by God (or the gods)? Where will he go from here?
Much of this message is strengthened by the visuals. The place of reflection of the soul, the villain standing among Greek gods, the digital fires showcasing Wick’s decent into the pits of hell, the griminess of the trash of the underworld, his fall from grace, the destruction he inflicts upon others and at these sacred sites, the blood he spills on holy ground. With little to nothing to show for it at the end, something foreshadowed early on when he gets his car back. It’s mainly the visuals that are responsible for delivering this theme. This movie wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as it is without these masterfully crafted and well-lit and well-shot sets. This is the main aspect that elevates it above the first film.
Visuals aside, things are kept straightforward. Less time is shown with contemplation of the past, and “feelings”, and speeches of “feelings” like in some brief moments of the first one. It’s mainly relegated to getting equipped, planning out attacks, escape routes, and other combat stuff. It makes the film deceptively shallow, the key word there being “deceptively”. There’s really only two (maybe three) points in the film where speeches are given that go into the theme and into Wick’s character, most of which are within the first half hour. Thankfully, like in the first film, there are some moments of dark humor. One such highlight is when Reeves and Common are shooting at each other with silenced pistols casually while trying not to distract the crowd around them. There’s a few subtle humor moments like that, where the film lets the audience know that it’s self-aware at how close it gets to being ridiculous, if not just crossing that line.
The problem I had with the film lies in two areas. The first is with regards to the action. There’s so much of it that it gets exhausting to get through. Not as bad as Hardcore Henry, but it’s still bad. Granted, one could make the excuse that the scenes are so well-shot you won’t care, or that it’s meant to be exhausting to showcase how exhausted Wick is getting, and that the few moments of reprieve Wick gets will also make the audience sigh with relief.
But that excuse can’t be made with the second problem I have. This film seems to take place in a world different from ours. Seriously, this doesn’t seem like society as we know it. I’m not talking about living in another sector of society we previously weren’t aware of, I mean that this world seems to be uninhabited by civilians and regular police officers. The first film at least managed to have some semblance of that. This film just decides to go into “fuck it” mode and just make just about everyone either an assassin, or aware that there are assassins. This becomes especially distracting during the end. I mean, I get it, it’s supposed to drive forth the theme that the world is against Wick, that he’s on borrowed time, etc. But this crosses that line of, “Well we’re supposed to laugh at this implausibility because the film is laughing with us.” That excuse becomes worn away before the end of the film. It does become ridiculous at times. It’s like back to watching fucking Battlestar Galactica.
You’re a cylon! He’s a cylon! She’s a cylon! I’m a cylon! My dog’s a cylon! We’re all fracking cylons!
Despite the negatives, this is a solid film. It leaves it more open for a sequel than the first film does, and it’s a sequel I hope we get. A franchise like this seems like it would only be good for no more than 4 films. Even more than 3 could be pushing it. Because at this point it seems like it’s shown just about all of its bag of tricks when it comes to this gun-fu style of action. Unless it finds a way to mix the action up, the next sequel would have to be less in quantity and greater in quality when it comes to the action sequences. Otherwise it will make me get gun-fu fatigue faster than the Marvel films giving me superhero fatigue. What worries me is that it seems to end on a note which goes along the lines of, “You think this had enough action? You ain’t seen nothing yet!” Hope for the best.