In John Wick: Chapter Two, the consistencies in tone and style have been applied to a shift in storytelling, as we see John demonstrates better skills against a more deadly, intimidating force of evil.
[This article contains spoilers for John Wick: Chapter Two.]
A WATERSHED IN THE HISTORY OF ACTION MOVIES
In summer 2014, John Wick, to our surprise, was praised by critics for its near-perfect execution of action sequences and visual style, and theatergoers around the world contributed to its global box office of $86 million (on a modest budget of $20 million). The movie owed its success to a group of dedicated personnel, whose experience in the industry begot a combination of everything great in consonance with action movie standards.
On this basis, as well as the unexpectedly provocative worldbuilding, Lionsgate greenlit a sequel, and it was then officially announced that John Wick: Chapter Two would come to theaters in February 2017. Anticipation was undoubtedly high. Fans were waiting for the movie to kick Grey’s butt on Valentine’s Day while wondering how the cast and crew would make it top the last one. They were not disappointed.
HOW CAN THE ACTION IMPROVE?
The main cast and crew seem to have doubled their effort put in the previous movie (which was impressive in its own right). The main star Keanu Reeves spent three and a half months of his summer, according to stunt coordinator J.J. Perry, to forge himself once again physically ready for the skills required. Videos of Reeves’ tactical sessions have been spreading all over the Internet ever since, as his mentor Aaron Cohen praised our star for his patience and humbleness. With the help from Taran Butler – world’s 3-gun champion, Reeves worked hard to up his game in effectively handling handguns, rifles, and shotguns.
The team at 87Eleven Action Design also have their share of contribution to action set pieces: those shadowy pathways in the tomb sequences provided a clear and sinister sense of danger, resulting in a splendid shootout halfway into the movie. Co-owned by the creators of John Wick, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, this company also offers a variety of stunt training and choreography in general. Common and Ruby Rose were trained hard to maintain the one trademark of every great action movies (i.e they do most of their own stunt work).
A SURPRISINGLY MUCH BETTER STORY
In terms of story, writer Derek Kolstad managed to set a new direction for the Baba Yaga. As for the first one, John’s motivation is purely personal: Iosef killed his dogs and stole his car, so the ex-hitman dispatched this uneducated buffoon along with everyone who got in the way. Because Leitch (before he left the director’s seat) and Stahelski promised not to recycle this (slightly) emotionally manipulative idea anymore, John’s new Pitbull (which still hasn’t been named), for marketing purpose, stays safely beside The Continental’s concierge Charon (Lance Reddick). Even though Kolstad’s script is still pretty simple, the plot evolves to a more advanced level of character writing.
We all remember when captured by Viggo, John did pronounce his comeback (“Yeah, I think I’m back!”). He had somewhat a fixation on killing and was possibly aware of what would eventually come down on him. In the beginning, Winston even warned him: “You got out once. You dip so much as a pinky back into this pond… you may well find something reaches out… and drags you back into its depths.”
As a result, the residue of John’s complicated prime also refuses to let him go on his own will so easily. He still had a contract that was left unfulfilled. On this mission, with all the physical supplements, John is more damage-proof, but we also see him being more vulnerable in a sense of degrading dignity. Others do not see him as the much-feared Baba Yaga anymore. At the face of these threats – both palpable and abstract, he does struggle, but resistance proves to be of little use under the unimaginable dominance of this community in general and certain prominent figures in particular. The chain of events leads to John being Excommunicado, which means he is stripped off of all privilege in Continental as well as in their crime underworld. A public enemy on the run, John must prepare to face unpredictable threats in his aimless future.
This feat was accomplished by an intriguing process of setup from the previous film. Inspired by comic books, John Wick’s worldbuilding is the most attractive feature of this franchise. Chapter Two continues to introduce to us new set of contract regarding the Blood Oath, a mysterious administration named The High Table, a series of trustworthy outlets for John to gear up, a system of delivering kill contracts, another large organization separate from The Continental, and most memorably, Winston’s true capability that has never been seen before. The establishment feels less like an obstacle for plot development than that of the last one. Rather, as John’s grasp leads us deeper and higher, the hidden world grows more organically, further into each branch established in the previous film together with several new ones.
WHEN IN ROME, DO AS THE ROMANS DO
Set shortly (less than one week) after the events in John Wick, Chapter Two picks up where John left unresolved. It moves to a new location, Rome, and immediately seizes audiences’ attention with a sense of grandiosity and its invigorating relationship with Greek mythology. Kolstad and Stahelski even addressed their crime world as being inspired by Greek mythology with The Continental as Hades’ Underworld and John’s quest as that of a Greek hero. The metaphor is intensified by a scene where John meets up with D’Antonio at “the museum” (which is actually Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome). Audience may spot a renowned statue of Hercules, surrounded by the Greco-Roman pantheon, behind them.
Now, Rome has upgraded the franchise’s otherworldly extent to a new ground: Roman mythology. Enforced by its rich tradition, the city emits a kind of awe-inspiring ambiance that flatters the thematic tone as the details allow us to have a clearer understanding of this society. Especially, it represents a challenge to John. In the era of Emperor Augustus, Roman citizens lived with a newly-founded ideology by the poet Virgil – “pietas”. It focuses on dedication to the state, laws, and religious beliefs. How is John going to comply with the two unbroken rules? How can he always take the high road under such pressures?
John Wick: Chapter Two builds its unique direction on the foundation of the first movie. It does not lazily rely on any particular strength that, if exploited, would attract action fans once again. Instead, the consistency in tone and style has been properly applied to a shift in storytelling, as we see John demonstrates better skills against a more deadly and intimidating force of evil. His future faces instability, leaving an opportunity for the third installment to continually strive for perfection in this franchise’s worldbuilding and artistic fight sequences.
Subscribe to MovieWorms
Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox