Review Roundup - Double Down

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 (2017)

While Sad Keanu Chapter One was a slick sleeper hit that struck a nerve with many people who were tired of shaking cameras and censored violence, part of me was left wanting more. It was stripped down and stylish, but there was always something a bit restrained about it all. I may be hard to please but I've sat through Hard Boiled far too many times to immediately accept something like this as a new breed of shoot 'em up spectacle. But it laid some interesting ground work and showed people that actually being able to see movie violence could be a thing again. Fortunately a second time around means that they can push things a little further, and it's just the kind of push a sequel like this needs. Is it the double tap hit of adrenalin that I was hoping for previously? Well yes and no.


There's certainly more of everything in store for the eponymous cleaner (Keanu Reeves) as things begin to unravel and his peaceful retirement plans are put on hold once again. After sinister crime lord Santino (Riccardo Scamarcio) pays him a visit to collect on an old debt, he finds out that it is impossible to just walk away from the underworld and begins and quest which involves plenty of assassination and revenge. There's more neon, more guns, more killers, and more people saying '...John Wick...' to each other at regular intervals. The plot as ever is less important than the action and the various rivalries and contracts which fuel it.

Those looking for eye popping visuals and skull cracking bullet wounds will certainly get their fix here. The set pieces all follow a similar routine as before, but locations and scenarios vary just enough to keep things moving. The opening scenes offer some visceral vehicular mayhem, and the mid point of the story sees some gun play in during a concert in Italy that mirrors the original nightclub showdown.

Speaking of reflections, the finale takes place in a reflective art gallery which provides a classic hall of mirrors sequence while simultaneously adding it's own fluorescent touches. Halls full of statues, dirty subway stations and shadowy city streets all add a distinctive sense of progression, ramping up that video game meets music video feeling. Some parts are played out as criss-crossing murder montages to keep things feeling fresh. Only a murky underground escape threatens to spoil the fun, as Keanu goes through a series of different weapons that are obscured by darkness. It's a great setup but the execution is less than ideal.


John's world is expanded as he travels to Rome, meeting exclusive tailors and fancy arms dealers who outfit him for the mission ahead. There are plenty of fun minor characters here including Franco Nero as local version of Ian McShane's hit-man hotel manager, and Peter Serafinowicz as a trader with everything from knives to assault shotguns for sale. There are more mysterious gold coins exchanged and strange business practices discussed, but it's never enough to ruin the mystique. People talk about rules, duties and agreements, and bounties are typed into anachronistic computers by tattooed office employees.

A wider sense of lore subtly constructed but it's never lingered on for too long; there's a heightened reality but it's still grounded just enough. Some of the best moments come from the outskirts of this world, and one of the highlights is a scenery chewing Larry Fishburne as 'The Bowery King'. As the head of an entirely separate sect of thieves and killers, he sits amongst the city pigeons ruling over a crew of heavies that are not as homeless as they first appear. Maybe he thought he was taking himself too seriously these days, and while it's not quite King of New York levels of eccentric it's brief but a welcome turn. 

Mr. Wick himself is never particularly well defined, and like many of the other cast members he feels more like a thin caricature that a person with depth. Mr. Reeves does the action burnt out action hero schtick well enough for it to get a pass, but while everything else is fleshed out just a little this one area was left out. It's not a major flaw in a story of this kind, but there's some room for improvement that they don't fully capitalise on. His wife and his dog are still the basic links to what small amount of characterisation is utilised, beyond all the vague descriptions of his legendary status from various mobsters. This and the sequel bait ending are the major issues, so overall this is still a better film and a solid sequel. Ultimately this feels like a worthwhile expansion which should satisfy old fans and new arrivals alike.

4/5

BONUS REVIEW
THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (2017)


I guess it was inevitable that this arrived before a Lego Movie sequel, since many viewers gravitated towards Will Arnett's abrasive, music writing incarnation of Batman. While they never explicitly depict the film's world as being part of a children's playset this time around, there are still many, many aspects that give this impression. Unlike other big screen outings for the caped crusader, this is frequently self referential bringing up everything from the original comic stories to the much maligned 1990s movies. There are jokes about everything from the other members of the Justice League to the sheer number of bizarre and nonsensical villains Batman has faced over the years, many of who appear on screen as part of The Joker's latest scheme.

The drawback to this kitchen sink toy box style approach is that is often indulges in things from the Lego brand as a whole. It spends large amounts of time name dropping and throwing in action scenes that involve franchises like Gremlins, Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. I understand it's because they can, and it adds to this play time feeling. But a little more focus on the title of the movie would have been nice. They eventually pull it all together to form a story about team work and friendship as you might have expected, but there's a nagging feeling throughout that this should have been smarter and funnier than it is with a tighter focus and a more robust script.

3/5