John Wick Chapter 2 is action cinema at its very best

Chapter 2 unveils a little more of everything that made the first great

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Three years on after the original murderfest, Chad Stahelski’s John Wick is back to turn up the volume and pile up the bodies. The overhanging threat of action movie sequels is that they will either re-tread the same old ground, remaking old scenes with an inflated budget or they will use that new budget to spend on cars to chase and crash/ explode. There is always a danger of losing the magic of the first film by upping the stakes too much.

The first scene of John Wick 2 features a car chase with several close ups, quick cuts and crane shots. Immediately it seems as if the style of film would be different. The views are fleeting, the camera does all the moving. Maybe the directors misunderstood what was so enjoyable about the first. Maybe studio pressure has created a more homogenised vision. Maybe this won’t be filmed like the original. Then out of nowhere the car chase ends and the next time we visit John in his Mustang the camera hangs about in the front seat, it lingers and lets the action unfold in the best way possible, the way that made John Wick so special. It’s as refreshing as ever with its take on choreography and camera placement.

John Wick introduced the hidden world of assassins, a New York based hotel called The Continental where assassins hold a mutually beneficial armistice, managed by Ian McShane’s delightfully cheesy Winston. The sequel introduces us to the international world of assassins. The filmmakers continue to have as much fun with this concept that they can, clearly, they held back in the first because they throw so much ideas at the screen that it’s hard to keep up. Three scenes are spliced together to what amounts to a frantic shopping montage where John shops for equipment. The scene is brilliantly whimsical and may as well be taking place in Diagon Alley, as Peter Serafinowicz’s Sommelier delicately recommends Mr. Wick new and improved firepower.

In all honesty, the film is an ode to the professional and this scene shows it. It is a film to admire the handicraft of a master tradesman, even if your trade is tailoring suits, engineering guns or shooting people in the head. This second chapter features much more members of John Wick’s professional circle, he is no longer dealing with low down gangsters, he is up against pros. He faces more difficulty in one on one battles and needs to prepare a lot more than before. He certainly gets more lucky in this outing, with a few guards failing to shoot him from feet away. However, the advent of a bulletproof Italian suit makes for highly effective plot armour.

The film does not appear to have lost any of giddiness over choreography and seems to have doubled down on its tongue in cheek attitude, with the sequel containing much more laughs without ever going overboard. The lighting was something that stood out in the first and here they appear to stick to a similar formula, using intense blue and green filters for the majority of the film. It is broken up by scenes of vibrant lighting, culminating in a shoot-out in what is essentially a hall of mirrors.

Once again, however, it is Keanu Reeves who is worthy of the praise, he puts his body on the line through some fantastic choreography and dedicated stunt work all while maintaining John Wick’s sullen equilibrium aided in multiple scenes by the ever intimidating Common and Ruby Rose. Matrix partner Laurence Fishburne makes a reappearance next to Neo and brings a great energy to the film with his booming vocals and heavy duty laugh. After witnessing the upsetting dullness of his performance in Passengers it was a great relief to see him letting loose in a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Recommendation

John Wick Chapter 2 is what the most extreme optimist should have expected from a John Wick sequel. It remains as inescapably driven and hardcore as the last and increases the extremes on every angle, it constantly adds seasoning to its intensely realised world and the direction and style remains as fresh as the first. The film is the action genre at its very best.

John Wick increases his body count from 77 in the first to 128 this time round. That should tell you all you need to know.

 

Passengers is sleek and polished on the surface but a muddled mess at its core

Passengers’ promising first act is let down by the avalanche of farce that proceeds it

Science fiction is experiencing a bit of a boom lately, no doubt boosted by the power of new Star Wars movies and ever increasing ‘nerd culture.’ But sci-fi is often expensive, CGI heavy and cerebral. Meaning that it can be a difficult genre for a studio to simply cash in on: for every District 9 there are at least ten Battleships. So how can a studio ensure that a generic conglomeration of popular sci-fi tropes and unoriginal visuals makes a sensible profit? Why, of course, by sticking two of the biggest stars on the planet in a spaceship and ensuring that they fuck each other, so they can show it in the trailer. Unfortunately for desperate corporate ploys to capitalise on market research, Passengers has not been the breakout success that was hoped for.

Passengers is a film starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence as passengers aboard The Avalon. The ship is taking 5000 paying customers to another planet to escape the husk that the Earth has become, the two wake up 90 years earlier than other passengers and cannot get themselves back into stasis, leaving them stranded on The Avalon together. One positive thing to say about Passengers is that it is at least an original story rather than a reboot or a sequel. However, a negative thing to say about Passengers is that there doesn’t seem to be many original ideas in it outside of its premise. The visuals are refined and clean but unfortunately seem to be almost entirely taken directly from previously successful sci-fi films; Alien, Prometheus and 2001: A Space Odyssey being the three main examples. References and inspiration can be a good thing but too many of them and the film just begins to feel like a stale rehash.

It is not only in the visuals that Passengers feels unoriginal. It also borrows several moments almost verbatim from recent films such as Gravity, Guardians of the Galaxy and The Martian. Now that is not to say that sci-fi has to be 100% original, in fact in most cases it is common to repeat successful movies’ motifs, but Passengers does this with so much frequency that it becomes a Frankenstein’s monster made up of mostly of other films dramatic beats.

The film is a tonal mess that appears to not know whether or not it should take itself seriously and when humour is appropriate. Starring Chris Pratt means that there will of course be comic elements but the film produces what seem like unintentional moments of comedy through strange editing choices and inappropriate dialogue. Jennifer Lawrence’s character Aurora interrupts a sweet romantic moment by stopping mid-laughter and stating in the most deadpan way “for a minute I almost forgot my life is in ruins” and Aurora continues to be an incessant downer for the rest of the movie. The film contains comical pratfalls, facial expressions that would make the Wayan bros blush and a hilariously tactless robot doctor, none of which were intended to be funny. Unless they were, in which case the film should have just been a comedy.

What disappoints me so much about the film is that it is possible that there was at least one good film in there somewhere. There is a heavy theme of isolation a ’la The Shining, blatantly displayed by Michael Sheen’s android bartender, Arthur. This seems to be setting the film up as a psychodrama about a man lost in space slowly losing his sanity. The film jumps straight from this sort of heavy subject matter to a Risky Business/Home Alone style montage and immediately back into goofy comedy. Followed by the introduction of a genuinely tough moral choice and some significant character development the film fails to develop on the ideas and instead turns into a romance before turning back into the most generic sci-fi film possible. The film had set itself up as a combination of Moon and Misery which could have resulted in an interesting film. Instead the second half of the film falls into complete farce, sprinkled with plot holes, Deus-ex-Machina and hilariously bad writing.

Recommendation

There are parts of Passengers that are so bad that they are comical, but not enough to justify watching purely for its shortcomings. The film is a tonal mess with incredibly high production quality, unfortunately poor writing cannot be hidden behind CGI.

There are flashes of three disparate films in Passengers, one a moral dilemma based romance, the second a nervy psychodrama and the final is a by the numbers generic sci-fi. There is enough to like within the film but unfortunately there is way too much space in between it all.