He was the one you sent to kill the Boogeyman.
2014 I saw John Wick in theatres knowing very little about the Baba Yaga. I honestly don’t even remember the trailer. I know there was a dog, and a car, and someone you really, really shouldn’t mess with. And I knew it was Keanu Reeves who could play anyone from the literal actual Buddha to a cyberpunk post-apocalyptic robot messiah. What ensued was an hour and a half of sophisticated style, real raw action, and an incredibly fascinating look into an underworld of shady characters, hidden places, and secret societies. John Wick was a smart modern noir action film about a retired hitman on a personal quest of revenge in this second world operating right within our own. There was something so cool, so slick, so captivating about how fully fleshed and functioning this secret world was as it operated right within plain sight.
The movie’s action sequences are nothing short of cinematic masterpieces. They are smooth, quick, and to Keanu Reeves’s credit, believable. I’ve seen clips of the extensive tactical weapons and fighting training Keanu goes through for the films and it is impressive with huge payout. The cinematography is clear and clean because there’s no need for fluff or camera tricks. Keanu knows how to punch, kick, grapple, shoot, and repeat so the camera gets to relax and stay still long enough for us to register each action and really appreciate and understand the level of power and skill his character has. They are shot in these fantastic dynamic environments that allow for so much variety and improvisation. The Red Circle club scene is claustrophobic and crowded and yet there is an interplay with enemies coming out of the water, running behind glass, on a busy dance floor, and all to the persistent endless deep booming bass. There is a home invasion scene near the beginning of the movie as John Wick’s enemies try to execute a preemptive strike that makes full use of John’s gorgeous house as a close quarters combat playground.
But really, any movie can have good action. Might not be as good as John Wick‘s, but a good action scene is fairly easy to create and produce. A world that is compelling enough to want to watch the action in however, that requires skill. See, John Wick isn’t just another action movie to be filed in with the rest. At its heart it is a stylish, dark, and gritty noir film with a world that has so much to want to explore and investigate. John Wick has its own understated yet implicitly complex mythology. I knew it was going to be something different, something unique, something to think about, when John summons ‘Charlie’ and his ‘specialty cleaners’ to clean up the bodies and debris left in his house after the failed home invasion. The currency of exchange in the underworld for everything from favors to a room at the mystical ‘Continental’ to the disposal of bodies are gold coins. We get bits and pieces throughout the movie of the very strict code of conduct that members of this society must adhere to, lest they pay a severe penalty from ‘the house’. The criminal underworld is an unlikely yet compelling setting as the last vestige of gentlemanly professionalism, honor, and order. It’s such a fascinating society with its own rules, enforcement, requirements, and restrictions. There are services that are expected, almost natural extensions that can be called upon at a moment’s notice. Doctors with specific clientele, ‘dinner reservations’ for cleanup and disposal of bodies, all under the watchful eye of ‘management’. It’s a world I absolutely loved and wanted to know more about.
So these are the two major parts of what made John Wick back in 2014 so great. And it was with this understanding and desire and prior relationship with the movie that I went to watch John Wick Chapter 2 this weekend. I wanted the now-franchise to continue its ability to deliver high-quality action sequences with style and sophistication and I wanted to see more of this secret underworld whose connections and services are now international. And I am happy, ecstatic, honestly relieved to say, the movie did not disappoint.
John Wick Chapter 2 builds upon the first’s captivating world and particular style of violence. We visit Rome’s ‘Continental’ run by Winston’s cousin, the owner of the New York ‘Continental’ and a highly influential and powerful member of this world. John visits the ‘sommelier’ for a ‘tasting’ in order to purchase a very specific set of weapons intended to give him the advantage he needs to accomplish his tasks and rack up a very impressive kill count. The ‘tailor’ builds him a suit that is sharp, sleek, and lined with tactical zero-penetration armor. Keanu gets to run and gun through the abandoned tunnels below Rome, a hall of mirrors, a NYC subway train, and in a particularly funny scene involved in a station below One World Trade Center.
The movie is not without its shortcomings, however. And I find it stems from an identity crisis that the film has when it forgets what made the first such a great film in the first place. John Wick was a gritty noir film but it was not afraid to be light at times. It had a fully fleshed world but delivered it in an understated and subtle way. At times, John Wick Chapter 2 felt too serious and tried too hard to legitimize itself and/or its story. First of all, John Wick was at its core about a car and a dog. Second, it was well-received, loved, and the sequel was, in a world of remakes and rehashes, something we actually wanted. So no one, least of all the movie itself, needs to convince us of its legitimacy and necessity. Oh yes, I needed this sequel. If the moral of John Wick should be ‘don’t rob a man’s car and kill his dog’ the moral of John Wick Chapter 2 should be ‘don’t betray a man who kills men’. Everything else is fluff and should be dealt with lightly. I also think that, while the movie gave me a much bigger helping of that secret world that I so craved, it spoonfed it to me. I loved how John Wick didn’t introduce these elements, it simply included them. Like it was a natural and assumed part of the understanding between movie and moviegoer that yes, there is a hotel that houses assassins and yes, there’s a bar and a doctor and a tailor and a launderer. Wonderful. Every new element in Chapter 2 seemed to have its own introductory exposition and honestly, I didn’t need that. I loved being able to piece together who these secret support roles of the underworld were and what they did. There was no need for any heavy-handed explanations. After all, isn’t it cooler when your date just rolls up in a nice car, versus talking to you about it all the time before the date? The movie succeeds the most when it is unapologetic about its decisions, not afraid to be light amidst the darkness, and is subtle yet convincing in creating its world rules and myths.
The worst thing I can possibly say about Chapter 2 is that at times it has about as much confidence as a teenage boy losing his virginity. I could do with less ‘am I doing alright’ ‘is this working for you’. The movie was, above anything else, spectacular. I think it did a great job of paying homage to its roots (THE PENCIL SCENE) and then moving forward with the story. I’ve seen no sign of weakness in the performance, style, or direction in this movie. There is no shortage of fantastic action sequences and the Greek myth/steampunk/smoke and mirrors underworld is just as fascinating and intriguing as it was in the beginning. No spoilers or anything, but I just want to say, the movie has had a great run in theatres, the fans are all loving it, and there’s just enough in the end to be able to flesh out a third, so here’s hoping.
John: Winston, tell them, tell them all, whoever comes, whoever it is, I’ll kill them. I’ll kill them all.
Winston: Course you will.
Man: 201 Loneliness: 33