Friday, 19 May 2017

Film Review: John Wick Chapter 2


John Wick Chapter 2 might just be the best video game movie ever made.

Movies based on video games tend to get a bad wrap; Assassin’s Creed, Warcraft and Lara Croft are just the tip of the iceberg. But movies that take inspiration from video games? Now they’re a different story all together. 

Think Edge of Tomorrow, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World or Source Code, all films that draw from video game storytelling techniques and motifs to craft a compelling film in their own right. To this exclusive club you can add John Wick Chapter 2, a film that both looks and feels like a video game in ways that both elevate and hinder the viewing experience.

The film is so loaded with action that thin strands of plot barely factor into the equation; it’s a plug-and-play sort of scenario where the film points Wick in a vague direction and simply lets him wreck havoc. He’s essentially a generic video game protagonist brought to life, and like all good video game protagonists, he’s monosyllabic and lets his pistols do the talking. The occasional dialogue scenes that punctuate the action feel like the brief cut scene reprieves one might idly sit through whilst playing Uncharted or Far Cry, fingers itching at the joysticks until you can jump back into the action, just as Wick’s hands hover over his holsters.

All you need to know is this; Wick’s (Keanu Reeves) actions in the first film have put the cat amongst the pigeons and a mysterious man from his past called Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) has a debt that needs to be repaid. Wick’s mission is to eliminate an important mob figure in Rome, and so he sets to work plotting an intricate assassination in the vein of Hitman or Assassin’s Creed.

Everything about this film feels plucked from the world of video games. The pre-mission montage that sees Wick tooling up recalls Battlefield or Titanfall, where the player cycles through outfit, weapon and perk loadouts before heading into the fray; the way Wick moves through each action sequence with swift destruction mimics the player experience on classic arcade shooters like Time Crisis or Ghost Squad; the waves upon waves of enemies that seemingly spawn out of nowhere and pop out of cover to receive a swift bullet to the cranium not at all unlike a frenzied de_dust deathmatch on Counter Strike. The way that Wick anticipates his enemies and delivers a swift no-scope headshot evokes someone who has already tried their hand at this level umpteen times before.

Even the set design invokes the way levels feel different and unique to one another as a player moves through a video game, from a sewer labyrinth beneath a Roman basilica to a revolving hall of mirrors. The fight choreography is graceful and callous, like a swift combo execution on Mortal Kombat; the ruthless blood splatters akin to a fine-tuned finisher move. 

Of course, this essentially leaves us with a film that is wafer thin on plot but top heavy on punchy martial arts. That will work for some – the audience at my particular screening was certainly lapping it up – but I concede this approach isn’t for everyone. If you’re looking for a film where Reeves gets to emote, this isn’t it. But if gorgeous cinematography, seamless editing and unrelenting action are your thing, you simply can’t look past John Wick Chapter 2. There isn’t any other film series out there right now quite like it. Let’s hope this second instalment doesn’t prove to be the final checkpoint.

The Verdict: 8/10


Bigger, bolder and bloodier than the first entry, John Wick Chapter 2 builds on what everyone loved and makes it just plain better.

John Wick Chapter 2 is in cinemas across Australia now.

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