A genuinely decent, nicely shot, R rated actioner with first rate characters is pretty rare these days but there have been a select few. I’d say the best series would have to be John Wick which not only reinvigorated Keanu Reeves’ career but also demonstrated that an action movie could have oodles of style and a black sense of humour to match the bodycount.
Now if you’re talking world building then everyone sees Marvel as the template but personally the universe of John Wick is my favourite.
The whole idea of The Continental, a place where the world’s best assassins can go without fear of getting killed (and they even have their own currency of gold coins) seems timeless, surreal and totally perfect. You can just tell that it has been around for a long time and that they have a certain way of doing things and their particular set of rules.
The first John Wick introduces us to this world and Chapter 2 expands on it taking the action from New York, to Rome and back again showing us that The Continental is everywhere.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is out now on Digital download so I thought it would be a good time to compare the two movies.
The first movie has our protagonist, a former hitman called John Wick (Keanu Reeves) mourning over the recent death of his wife. When she passes away a puppy is delivered to his house as a final gift from her to give him something to love. One day John goes to get some gas and a Russian gangster offers to buy his car; after he is insulted by John he and his buddies pay him a visit leaving him badly beaten and his puppy dead (bastards). This sets off Mr. Wick back into his old life as he takes bloody revenge on the gangster, his father and frankly his entire organization.
So sure, the story isn’t all that new but the fact that a small dog is killed immediately has you on Wick’s side and you don’t feel bad for the villains at all. Kill them all, John! They have it coming! I wouldn’t have felt bad if it had been a cat because everyone knows cats are assholes.
Anyway, what ensues is one of the most stylish bloodbaths you’ll ever see with john shooting lots of bad guys in the face. The stand out scene is the nightclub assault which is just incredible to watch but also features Keanu taking on Daniel Bernhardt in a fist fight. The colours and the camera work are just sublime to watch and the high kill count only elevates it.
It takes a while to get going but I never had a problem with it as it helps establish the world and get to know the characters so we are emotionally involved in the story. Keanu doesn’t say that much but he doesn’t need to; he’s just a one man army and watching him kill everyone is never less than satisfying.
I love how Michael Nyqvist’s mob boss Viggo Tarasov is totally terrified of Wick and knows what devastation he can cause to his organization but he also provides some of the films funniest moments like how he describes the time John killed someone with a ‘fucking pencil”.
The build-up in the film just works so well and we are behind John every step of the way and frankly cheering as he wipes out the entire Russian mob.
John Wick remains one of my favourite action movies of the past decade so when I heard a sequel was coming I was overjoyed. So let’s take a look at that one.
John Wick: Chapter 2
Wick returns and the action takes place about 10 minutes after the end of the first movie with John wanting his car back from another group of mobsters led by Peter Stormare. This movie takes no time in getting going and the first 10 minutes is action nirvana as John once again takes on all comers with ease.
Somehow they managed to make this movie even more stylish than the first with fantastic cinematography and even gorier kills. We also actually get to see John kill bad guys with a pencil and it’s easily the best pencil kill in cinema history (sorry Mista J).
The story this time around has John refuse a contract from a former colleague called Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) despite having a marker and owing him. John eventually reluctantly agrees and heads to Rome to kill Santino’s sister who has recently been made head of the crime family. With her out of the way Santino can have his rightful place as the true leader. Rome has rarely looked better than in this movie with the amazing set design, costumes and atmosphere all just top notch. We even get another nightclub scene which certainly gives us some deja vu but escalates into an epic tunnel shoot-out.
Before that however, is where the pacing sags and I found there was a little too long between action scenes which was more glaring after a second viewing.
We do get more from The Continental though and as John gets “suited up” it once again provides the black humour as if he is planning a dinner suit for a posh event… rather than going on a killing spree. Franco Nero is a welcome addition to the cast bringing his own brand of cool and I hope he gets more to do for the inevitable part 3.
I really must tip my hat to Ian McShane as Winstone who is the head of The Continental; no matter what is going on he displays a calm demeanor and you always feel like he is in complete control. he brings some dry British wit to proceedings but we also get a better insight into The Continental and how it all works. I loved how to process a contract they use old Commodore 64 computers so they can avoid being tracked by more modern technology.
Like I said, the action is turned up to 11 this time around and our finale takes place in a hall of mirrors as a nice nod to Enter the Dragon. I’m not sure Ruby Rose was as interesting an adversary as Daniel Bernhardt was in the first movie but the fight scenes between Keanu Reeves and Common are easily the action highlight of the film.
I found that the action does tend to get a little samey by the end though with John continually doing throwing moves then shooting dudes in the head. For the third movie it would be cool if they changed it up a bit but also gave John a little more personality as he’s a little one note.
Chad Stahelski recently spoke to JoBlo about the 3rd movie stating: “I think, in my opinion the trapping would be to try and make it bigger. I can’t tell you whether JOHN WICK CHAPTER 3 will be bigger or smaller, but hopefully it will be different and more fun, or more creative and different. I think originality suffers sometimes by going big or by size or quantity. Obviously you can see several franchises out there right now that if you just got rid of the title card, you can follow the movie just by closing your eyes and listening and going, I know what’s happening here. The building is crumbling. The earthquake is happening or the laser and the spaceship is coming down. We look at it as a challenge rather than a moneymaker. We look at it like, okay, John Wick did this and this and we did these kind of cool things as well. It’s our world which is the greatest part about it. It’s an original property. We don’t have to bend or fit into any preexisting ideas or mythology about what John Wick is. Can we be cooler? Can we come up with some different stuff? Can we show you a different aspect to the world? I think we’ve got some pretty good ideas. Again, I’ll let you know in about a year or so when Rotten Tomatoes skewers us [Laughing] but we’ll see what happens.”
Sounds good to me! So after watching both movies a few times I think it’s safe to say that I think both are entertaining as Hell but the first movie remains my favourite. It just feels tighter but also fresher; bring on part 3 though as this is a story I want to see fulfilled.