First they killed Keanu Reeves’ dog, and in revenge, he killed everyone, and it was brilliant. Then they had to make two sequels, and they couldn’t come up with a very interesting story. But the action was still world class. Or was it?
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A highly-saturated neon-noir. John Wick: Chapter 2 is all Keanu Reeves, action-set pieces in exotic locations and attitude. Keanu has the face of an oriental sage, a body that’s imposingly lean and athletic, and the stance of a surfer dude who’s acquired sophistication along the way but still doesn’t get wit: He tries, and the camera helps him along. But who cares? He’s got a marvellous stillness, a face so full of architectural planes it refract enough shadow to sculpt darkness out of light: you can project anything you want onto it, onto him, and it projects something back, maybe something different for each of us but maybe also something sad and broody that’s unique to you.
The film is an updated notion of dumb fun. The plot merely an excuse for staging exciting action in glamorous places. The fights are indeed exciting: they’re well-choreographed against museums, art installations, subways (Montrealers might recognise the Place des Arts metro), Iconic monuments – this time mainly in Rome and New York.
In between fights, treasured character actors are given a chance to conjure some laughs and shine: some succeed (Lance Reddick, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishbourne), some don’t (John Leguizamo, Franco Nero, Peter Stormare). In a sense, the film reminds me of Speed (Jan De Bont, 1994): everything in the movie is designed as pace-in-time, to showcase action; it’s all move along, move fast, and bang bang against a series of distinctive images. But Keanu has a very particular and distinctively pleasurable way of holding a gun: elbow in, eye on the trigger. And Chad Stahelski knows how to stage action so that one sees the complete movement, is aware of the geography of characters and bodies, and in backgrounds that add visual pleasure and thematic density (the mirrored ‘Souls’ installation near the end). It’s a great-looking film (shot by Dan Laustsen) , a brightly hued noir that adds a sharp if artificial light to a series of explosive actions amidst an encroaching darkness. All of that plus Dog. Great fun. Even better than the original.
PS Since writing the above I’ve come across a really interesting analysis of Keanu Reeves by Angelica Jade Bastién for ‘Bright Wall/Dark Room’ that you can find here.
In John Wick, Keanu Reeves is like a mobile sketch, slinky lines of iconicity encased in a cloud of depressed earnestness, and he’s terrific; as is Alfie Allen, giving a more traditional type of naturalist performance, as the callow, amoral, edgy son of a Russian gangster. As to the rest, the film is a series of action pieces, excellently directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch in a straightforward no-nonsense manner that allows one to see what’s going on. I really liked it.