2017/02/15

John Wick 2

John Wick 2

Last night I saw John Wick Chapter 2, the sequel to the best action movie I've seen in over a decade. Chapter 1 was a stylish tour de force. How does Chapter 2 measure up?

Here's a hint: Keanu Reeves doing 3 gun training in preparation for JW2.


He uses all of that training, to spectacular effect, in the movie. Gun nuts and fans of dumb action flicks are now rightly sold on it. I'd be justified in ending the review right there.

But to the delight of gun nuts and lovers of well-told tales in general, there's a lot more going on under the surface of John Wick Chapter 2--and, I can now safely say, the series as a whole.

Hero with a thousand bullets
There are those who decry Hollywood and New York's over reliance on Joseph Campbell's model of the monomyth--the hero's journey made famous by Star Wars. Such criticism has merit. Campbell identified the monomyth as a descriptive tool that helps explain how a lot of great stories in the Western tradition tend to be organized. Too many authors and screenwriters lazily use the hero's journey as a ready-made blueprint to build all of their stories from.

That said, John Wick 2 definitely uses the monomyth structure. There are even on-screen visual nods to the great works of Greek literature that set the standard for the hero's journey. As a related aside, one of the best elements of both Wick movies is that the film makers clearly understand the visual language of film and use it to devastating effect.

John Wick 2 - mirrors
One dazzling action sequence takes place in a giant hall of mirrors that puts Enter the Dragon to shame. It would take an entire post to unpack everything that's going on in this single frame, and I guarantee you that I'd still miss most of it. 
John Wick 2 is a film that earns the right to use the monomyth as a template. For Wick, the hero's journey isn't merely a banal checklist or superfluous window dressing. The characters, themes, and visuals are all intimately tied into the classic narrative structure's steps. We have the refusal of the call--which, blessedly, isn't drawn out and fetishized like it is in too many current stories. There's the literal descent into the underworld, the encounter with the temptress, and a reconciliation with a father figure that will leave Matrix fans giddy.

A picture speaks a thousand words
Speaking of visuals, I can't get over how beautifully photographed this movie is. Even more than its gorgeous predecessor, JW2 has not one wasted shot; not one frame that fails to convey multilayered meaning without the need for words. The film makers may have slyly acknowledged that fact by making a prominent supporting character totally mute.

I strongly suspect that someone who's never seen John Wick 2 could watch it with the sound off and not only find the film perfectly intelligible, but wholly satisfying.

Let's not forget the action scenes. The makers of JW2 bucked another dumb Hollywood trend by unabashedly going for a hard R rating. That means we actually get to see people get hit, and we see the resulting injuries. For the first time since, well, John Wick Chapter 1, we have an American movie where the gun play and fisticuffs feel like they have consequences. That's a main ingredient of the movie's piano wire-taut dramatic tension.

Conclusion
Without getting into spoilers, the ending of John Wick Chapter 2 leads me to conclude that, not only does this installment follow the monomyth template; the whole series is aiming to do what no major franchise since Star Wars has attempted: to present a trilogy with an overarching hero's journey narrative, wherein each individual film is also a complete 3-act microcosm of the overall structure.

Ambitious? Yes. But based on the first two films abundantly exceeding expectations, I expect--and look forward to witnessing--their success in Chapter 3.

Go see John Wick Chapter 2. And if you like action, which I'm told I have a talent for writing, check out my swashbuckling Soul Cycle books.

Brian Niemeier - The Soul Cycle

@BrianNiemeier

6 comments:

  1. Interesting you would say that you can watch this film with the sound off. I just read a review that said there are multiple nods in the film to silent stars Lloyd and Keaton

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    1. That makes total sense.

      To be fair, a good portion of it is subtitled.

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  2. I was of the opinion already that Ch1 was damn near a "perfect" movie with, as you said, nothing wasted, and all the usual tropes that only get in the way of the hero, applying to the bad guys as well.

    Awesome, need to free up time for the theater

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    1. I'm glad you've reached that healthy conclusion.

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  3. And all this is from a group of guys who just wanted to make an action movie like the old days.

    If there is one film that deserves to set a trend it's this one.

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