The first half, minus a few minor quibbles (like the hacking into the mind sequence, which is laughable in it’s execution), was actually solid. Fantastic cinematography, great special effects, tremendous atmosphere (even though I think they overdid it with the holograms around the city), and it’s refreshing to experience a film that knows how to handle pacing again (take note 2017’s Beauty and the Beast). And even though I had recently watched the original 1995 anime film, I was willing to overlook some of the inferior thematic/metaphorical/plot qualities this film had compared to the original. It was a solid 3 star film, minimum, and I started to get my hopes up.
But then the halfway point comes and fucks everything up.
So that’s not exactly how the quote goes, but it’s pretty frikkin’ close. This movie makes every opportunity it can to reference Krispy Kreme Donuts. Well if they’re going to go that hard with in-movie advertising, then I’m going to do some in-review advertising. Minds.com, for people who want to think.
The only other interesting thing about this movie is that they throw a cheap shot at Transformers during the finale when they toss a car that resembles Bumblebee at some monsters, and right when they do it they shout, “Sorry Bumblebee!” Hardy har har.
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.
Decided to spend the Trump inauguration watching this film. Easier said than done apparently, since a lot of other people thought to do the same, making the film sold out for the first showing of the day. Forcing me to get tickets to the next showing, which was more expensive. Hope you readers appreciate the sacrifices I make to watch these films and do these reviews for you.
Anyway, I thought this was a better film than Deepwater Horizon, and it makes me more eagerly look forward to the next Peter Berg directed film. Should be noted he also wrote part of the screenplay, along with a few others including Paul Tamasy who wrote the screenplays for all the… Air Bud movies? What the hell?
That’s almost as weird as the fact that the show Family Guy predicted the Boston marathon bombings a month before it happened.
With the tasteless conspiracy jokes out of the way, let’s get to the actual movie itself. The whole movie is largely a procedural, basically being a docudrama in a similar vane (or is it vein?) as The Path to 9/11 and United 93, and I guess Peter Grif- I mean Peter Berg’s previous two films. When it comes to procedurals and films that pass themselves off as based on true stories and being played out as semi-documentaries, I tend to be more critical of them and do a bit of fact-checking, something I will unleash some anger upon in my next dual review. So upon checking the website historyvshollywood.com, the film does seem to be largely accurate. I mean it’s not completely accurate (they never are), they had to take some liberties for the sake of drama/tension and time compression.
For instance, Mark Wahlberg’s character is a combination of 3 police officers who each did separate things related to the marathon bombings as opposed to just 1 guy who got involved in just about everything. Fair enough, they did similar stuff in Michael Bay’s Pain and Gain.
The other little bit that was fictionalized is this romance angle between this young policeman and a college student. That didn’t really happen, and the director said to have done it to “help convey his appeal.” That’s one bit I think they could’ve done without. I tend to dislike movies that use the “romance angle” to make characters more appealing. It’s lazy and trite, and it occurs far too often in movies, especially Michael Mann films like Heat, with the exception being The Insider, which is probably his most solid film next to The Last of the Mohicans. The Insider is another great procedural film I can recommend. Probably the best film on whistleblowing before whistleblowing became as big as it was during the mid-2000s.
Anyway, all that aside, as far as I can tell, this film stays pretty close to the facts. The director interviewed several eyewitnesses and police officers, and even had a few on set to assure that everything was done as accurately as possible. And it felt authentic when I watched it. After I watched the film I went online to see some of the videos which discussed the event itself, and they felt faithfully recreated in the movie. For instance, the Chinese foreign student who got carjacked by the terrorists. Hearing him talk about the event. It seemed to match up perfectly with the film.
It’s one of the most tense moments in the movie, only topped by what follows. The big neighborhood shootout. When this scene goes down, the film’s intensity level reaches its peak. Two cops confront the two terrorists in the middle of a neighborhood street and all hell breaks loose. Gunfire going off on both sides. The cops eventually escalate it by bringing out the assault rifle, only for the bombers to escalate it even further by throwing explosives at them which just start decimating all the nearby vehicles the police are using for cover. It’s one of the most intense and well-shot shootout scenes I’ve seen since Hacksaw Ridge (though that’s hardly fair since that’s a war film; let’s say since Blackhat, say what you will about Michael Mann but he knows how to film a shootout). If nothing else, the movie is worth seeing just for this sequence alone.
Note: In the video above, it states that one of the terrorists puts all the groceries back before running out of the gas station store. He would bomb a marathon, shoot a cop, kidnap an Asian and hijack his car, but he wouldn’t steal groceries. A youtube commenter made a pretty damn funny remark to this: “I think somewhere in the Quran it says it’s totally acceptable to kill infidels and beat your wife, but if you steal convenience store chips, you are committing a direct threat to God himself. It’s unforgivable.”
As for the rest of the film, it starts off with a buildup to the marathon bombing, shows the immediate aftermath, showcasing the gory details of legs and limbs blown off, helping those who are injured, and then largely stays focused on the FBI and their procedures for tracking down and finding these terrorists. A bit slow up until the race starts, but it becomes very difficult to stop watching once the bombings happen and the manhunt begins.
As for the message the film delivers, the message ends up being love. Love conquers all. Now, normally, I would be sighing, facepalming, and possibly even laughing at this for being as tacked on as the love message in Chocolate. But this movie actually manages to pull it off, by stating that love conquers hate, in that our love for each other, for out fellow neighbors and countrymen, can overcome the hatred others have for us. That the community coming together to help take down the bombers and help the victims recover from this traumatic experience is something more powerful and inspiring than hatred for them and wanting to tear them all down will ever be. It’s a message, a call, for the country to unite and understand how important we are to each other. And it does it in a way that doesn’t feel too tacked on or too political in its message.
So all in all, solid film. Highly recommended. Currently the best film of 2017, though granted 2017 is only getting started.