Friday, February 24, 2017

Neo’s Gnarly Adventure, or Thoughts on John Wick: Chapter 2

Keanu Reeves is one of the most commercially successful and prolific actors working right now and yet he gets little respect because of a character he played in 1988.  He has an impressive IMDb page of almost 90 credits but to many audience members of a certain age he will always be Theodore Logan, or Ted from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (whatever happened to Bill?).  But he also made a movie about a bus, and then there was those three movies he did with The Wachowskis, which is germane to this post because that’s where he met his stunt double, Chad Stahleski, who not-so-coincidentally is the director of John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017).
The movie picks up moments later, maybe the next night after John Wick (2014).  I mean, who kills a dog, that’s my first question.  Theon as a Russian gangster, of course, but what a great premise for the first movie.  It was so simple, there was an elegant shorthand where everyone in the first movie either knew John Wick personally or was aware of his reputation.  There was no hand holding with the audience either; no distracting origin story, they’re thrown in the deep end and expected to keep up.  And because viewers are smarter than Hollywood thinks, they did.
As John Wick, the multi-lingual (including, according to this movie, American Sign Language), dog loving, debonair killer with a code, Keanu Reeves made a pure action film; reminiscent of John Woo and Luc Besson, but unapologetically American.  And he’s a mature action figure; he wears a suit and acts his age.  He’s not taking his off his shirt to show his abs, he feels pain but has an efficient and practiced fighting style that implies decades of practical application. 
Reminiscent of Leon: The Professional (1994, Luc Besson) and The Transporter (2002, produced by Luc Besson), Chapter 2 delves deeper into the stylish, super secret assassin’s guild that John Wick belongs to.  It’s interesting to note that there are no good guys here (well, maybe the dog), technically, everyone’s a murderer, and we as an audience get to watch Keanu playing a first person shooter with cleverly edited murder montages.  But we finally get to find out why John Wick always goes for a head shot; all those tailored suits have body armor sewed into the linings like the Wilson Fisk, who you and I know better as the Kingpin. 
It’s an interesting, layered world that John Wick inhabits, with steampunk-y elements where the gun fetish is elevated to an art form complete with a sommelier (Peter Serafinowicz, Pete from Shaun of the Dead) and arcane rules that imply centuries of tradition.  John Wick travels to Rome where Ian McShane’s counterpart, Franco Nero asks if he’s here for the pope, a sly reference to Godfather III (1990).
With Ruby Rose as Ares, a mute assassin who we just wrote about in Resident Evil:The Final Chapter (2017).  Ian McShane (Lovejoy!), John Leguizamo and Lance Reddick return, along with Laurence Fishburne and David Patrick Kelly, Luther from The Warriors (1979, “WARRIORS!  COME OUT TO PLAY-AYYY!!!”), T-Bird from The Crow (1994, “Fire it up!”), Sully in Commando (1985 “I let him go”) and Jerry Horne in Twin Peaks.  Director Chad Stahleski, Jeet Kune Do instructor, was a stunt man and stunt coordinator on some of my favorite movies including Ninja Assassin (2009), Escape from L.A.  (1996) and The Crow (1994).
In the second half of John Wick: Chapter 2 a contract is placed on his head and John Wick has to fight everybody in Manhattan.  It makes for some really cool fight scenes, but I couldn’t help but think of Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), when he had to dodge bullets from the world’s greatest assassins.  The death count was just about as high, but where Peter used comedy, Keanu used cars, garrotes, joint locks, knives and those signature head shots.

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).