Weekend Double Feature: 'John Wick: Chapter 2'
Deck: A Beautiful Ballet of Violence and Action
In a world where shaky-cam and rapid editing techniques have come to define most big name action movies, “John Wick: Chapter 2” is a bold renaissance that reminds us what real action looks like. Just like its 2014 sleeper-hit predecessor, “John Wick 2” is a beautiful dance of death and headshots brought to life by the always hardworking Keanu Reeves and stunt coordinator-turned-film director Chad Stahelski.
The story of John Wick is a mythical one, but not in terms of proportions or size. No, John Wick movies are mythical because they take place in an underground crime world that exists alongside ours, though hidden from view. In this world of badass assassins and international crime syndicates, they have their own currency, terms and rules.
The rules of the “High Table” at the “Continental” are as absolute as cosmic decrees, such that the blood oath “marker” that drags John Wick back into the world of crime cannot be ignored. This world is more akin to Greek mythology than it is to real life, complete with lofty ambitions and god-like figures whom only deign to bend down and hear mere mortals.
Putting aside the excellent themes, these movies are masterpieces of traditional action. Director Chad Stahelski comes from a stunt background, and was even the stunt double for Reeves in “The Matrix Reloaded.” Needless to say, he knows a thing or two about stunts and action set pieces. He knows that the best way to hit the audience is by providing action that they can see clearly and that is admittedly very difficult to pull off.
Many action movies are shaky affairs with lots of cuts because those film techniques create the illusion of action without actually having to do the action. Traditional action, with long takes and finely choreographed fights, is both expensive and time-consuming. Everyone on “John Wick 2” was open for putting in the hours necessary to make every fight a glorious ballet of fists, kicks, guns, knives and real stunts.
The camera lingers, steady and unerring, as we watch the consummate performer that is Keanu Reeves headshot and grapple tens or hundreds of goons in a single fight with minimal cuts. We watch as he gets hit by several real cars and thrown down several real flights of stairs. He reloads and shoots with precision accuracy and the professionalism to confirm his kills.
Yet for all of the wonderful violence, Stahelski never slouches in terms of injecting artistry and cleverness into his running gun battles. The framing of any given shot ensures that we see everything John Wick is doing, which is usually shooting people in the head, and that we clearly understand the geography of any action scene. There’s also a variety of clever settings for these fights to take place in, which makes sure no gun battle feels the same or occurs under the same circumstances. A personal favorite is when John Wick demonstrates his violent artistry in an art museum, where he paints the walls with his preferred medium of choice: blood.
“John Wick: Chapter 2” manages to surpass the high bar of action that its predecessor set, which is no small feat considering the first John Wick movie was a master class in traditional action itself. Complete with a subtly mythical narrative that leaves you wanting more from his world of crime gods (and headshots), “John Wick: Chapter 2” leaves you full with some of the best action you can find in movies today.