Film Review

‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ (2017). Non-Spoiler Review.

Somebody PLEASE, get this man a band-aid and ticket for an all-inclusive spa weekend. John’s back and he’s positively rattling like a maraca with guns, bullet-belts, knives, bruises, cuts, gouges, and probably the odd broken bone.

Still from imdb.com, ©Summit Entertainment

It seems that try as he might, John just can’t seem to catch a break. The peaceable finality of retirement seems a long way off for our central character as guns blaze, bullets fly, and knives find squidgy (often vital) body parts. From beginning to end, John’s entire being is beaten, punched, stabbed, shot, run over, rammed into walls… generally turned into walking viscera stitched together within a tactical evening suit, determinedly marching from one fight into the next with a grimly set jaw.

The casting in this film carries the plot with effortless and natural ease. Reeves looks, sounds and acts like a well-oiled killing machine, never speaking without a purpose (and thus preserving the intensity of every scene) and always shooting with a purpose. Fishburne’s Bowery King purrs with self-assured power, metanarratively echoing past character associations. McShane’s Winston is the monarchical epitome of simplicity: he oversees all, rules all, knows all. The villains of the piece, Scamarcio’s Santino and Rose’s Ares, are the perfect contrast to eachother: overt masculine power offsets the mythological embodiment of Ares’s namesake. A cast with powerful dynamism carries this film, never allowing the overt action to slip into the comically risible.


Still from imdb.com, ©Summit Entertainment

I don’t think I’m going to contravene my “Non-Spoiler” status by saying that this is not a film to shy away from brutality, and those who are familiar with the first film will be only too familiar with the film’s use of match-on-action soundtracking and symbolic use of two-tone blue and red lighting (rather reminiscent of Hitchcock’s use of colour in Vertigo). The rhythmic violence of the first feature echoes strongly within this second installment: no punch goes without a responding grunt, perfectly audible over the thumping background diegetics or accompanying post-editing soundtrack. The fight sequences follow the usual conventions: the villains are particularly vocal in their discomfort, while our sympathetic character-informant, John, only “oofs” and “ouches” when the pain becomes too intrusive (I think I noted a singular grunt when a knife was lodged firmly in his thigh). Again, physical action embodies the artistry of musicology as the familiar conventions of gunshots and punches exaggerate the thumping beat of the music in a nightclub fight sequence. It’s scenes like this that prevent the audience from living the horror and brutality of the violence in this film: the match-on-diegetics underlines the choreography of the action, allowing viewers to enjoy the vivacity of bloodshed and sky-high mortality rate.

I suppose one can summarise the John Wick franchise as a narrative of damage, revenge and perserverance against the odds. Furthermore, we can analyse the narrative through the metaphor of the fate of John’s beloved Mustang. It is a powerful machine, everyone who hears the name knows of its quality. It is a muscle car, designed to look the part and deliver optimum results. It is a sleek, unassuming but classic gunmetal grey and black, the palette of Business. It has all of the gadgets one could need with sufficient space for some streamlined accessories. It’s fast, very fast, and revving the engine sounds more akin to the bellowing of an angry, untamed animal than a machine. It’s tossed, shunted, shot at, doors dented, windshield cracked… but against seemingly insurmountable odds, it starts when needed, and though visibly battered, could probably still outperform any car on the road.

Still from imdb.com, ©Summit Entertainment

Much of the damage can be rebuilt, and that’s exactly the nature of Mr. Wick. Whatever odds are stacked against him, he’ll always come back with a signature roar of defiance.

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