by Robert Delany
Photo Courtesy of Facebook
If the James Bond series, Ip Man, Pulp Fiction, Enter the Dragon, First Blood, Fast and Furious, Die Hard and The Professional did not exist, then the John Wick films would be great. Unfortunately, there are plenty of movies that provide perspective. While watching both John Wick films for the first time this weekend, I found myself not only disappointed but also confused. I was sold a film series with off-the-wall action, an intense, wild ride and an unconventional narrative. I was convinced that John Wick was going to be something special. In reality, the John Wick films are hollow imitations of great films, rather than great films themselves.
This is a review of John Wick: Chapter 2, but know that the original and the sequel are essentially the same film and suffer from the same problems.
Directed by Chad Stahelski, John Wick: Chapter 2 surrounds the omnipotent John Wick, played by the always-expressive Keanu Reeves, as he is brought back into “the game” to repay a blood debt. The structure of this complex and surprisingly proper assassin community is kept mysterious, but during John Wick’s “impossible task,” he contacts the Italian mafia for help. Now the Mafioso he owes is coming for payment. Chaos and gunfire ensue.
There are many frustrating pieces to the John Wick universe. First, the mythology of “the game.” Almost every conversation John Wick has with another assassin is about the impossibility of retiring. As the film beats a dead horse for two hours, this stale action movie cliché becomes grating. We know he is not going to retire, so there is no reason for the filmmakers to create this contrived drama.
Second, the narrative. Every critical outlet, every fan manifesto screamed to me how cool and hip the story of John Wick is. They told me that the mafia kills John Wick’s dog, and he turns into a raging berserker. Even in the film itself the characters constantly recite the mantra, “Stole his car, and killed his dog.” I hope no one actually believes that, because it is overtly drilled into our minds that the real reason John Wick is on this rampage is because of the memory of his dead wife. The dog was a present from his wife, and the car is just a part of his memory of her. The film has nothing to do with a dog or a car. But if you repeat it over and over, audiences start to believe that this story is anything but the cliché traditional fridged-significant-other revenge story.
Third, I am a fan of martial arts, but these fight sequences are insufferable. Each fight is a long, drawn-out affair. As someone who actually trains Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I appreciated the numerous arm bars, crucifixes and sweeps that Reeves pulled off. But after you see the thousandth bodyguard get shot in the head, it starts to all blend together.
Finally, with the artificial mythology, cliché narrative and drawn-out action out of the way, we can look at John Wick from a more expansive perspective. My conclusion with both the first and second John Wick film is that they are both trying to copy great films, without actually being great films in themselves. John Wick: Chapter 2 tries to be a cool gangster movie like Pulp Fiction. It tries to be a martial arts spectacular like Ip Man or Enter the Dragon. It tries to be a high-octane car chase film like Bullitt or Fast and Furious. It tries to push the “unconventional assassin” label like The Professional. But has none of the originality, the attitude or the energy of any of those films.
While I do not recommend either the first film or the newest installment, this film has already made $40 million worldwide and is getting support from every fan and critic alive. Go see it for yourself to decide what you think.