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Guns, Lots of Guns: John Wick Parabellum Movie Review

John Wick was a movie that quite frankly caught me off-guard.  I went into it expecting some kind of mindless action flick and got caught up in a visceral revenge movie with amazing fight scenes.  John Wick as a character possessed intriguing levels of depth and a level of resignation and crisp professionalism about everything he did.  There was no wasted movement, no extra effort.

Coming out of that, John Wick 2 was far more mindless and violent.  It had a over-complicated plot that tried to tie into a greater world, one of debts and secret societies and complex conspiracies, one which the first one hinted at but never really explained.  JW2 explored that world, but at a cost to the titular character.  His motivations became murky, his actions lost their singular, vengeful purpose.  Also, to challenge him, the fights became bigger, broader, more elaborate and challenging.

Into that setting sweeps John Wick 3 and at first, it seems to take a step back to the original.  John is fighting to survive.  But then it delves back into the secret society stuff, which, while interesting, doesn’t grip as emotionally.  There’s plenty of action.  Some very awesome fight scenes, especially early on… but then there’s some mid movie that are *over* choreographed, almost wooden.  You can almost hear the director going stop, now do step b, stop, now do step c, etc.  And then the motivations become less clear.  Is John doing what he does to survive or for some other reason.  Is this part of his plan, has he had a plan?  Indeed, is John his real name?

It’s a sort of existential crisis that robs the movie of some of the hook.  It’s an interesting set of twists, but these twists aren’t explored.  Bits of JW’s past are brought up, hinted at, revealed, and discarded without any emotional impact.  The ties that bind this secretive criminal empire are shown, but we aren’t given reason to care.  Each new group is either a reluctant ally or the source of countless assassins willing to die for the chance to take down John Wick.

And boy do they die.  Sometimes in inadvertently amusing fashions as they come and go so quickly.  JW’s coup-de-grace headshot is almost comical as the CGI blood splatters from him splitting skulls and stabbing through craniums and then following up with headshots.  The action is rapid-fire (see what I did there?) and it doesn’t stop.  The tension is constant, with some heel-turn moments that leave you guessing… but also left me unsatisfied.  Those who take action are for the most part open books, but JW’s motivations are hard to interpret and, well, murky.  And those of some of his allies, well, those can be even less satisfying.

I’m all for the awesome carnage and the fantastic fight scenes.  Keanu Reeves and Halley Berry do and did some amazing scenes and I would love to see this level of fedelity in more action movies.  On the other side of things, the movie’s writers need to be beaten.  Both actors did fantastic jobs with the bits they were given, but the writers seemed to think that a few mysterious looks and sparse words would do, when in reality that’s just not enough.  At this point, hundreds, possibly even a thousand, assassins have died at John’s hands.  People don’t go blindly to their deaths against those kinds of odds without real motivation.  Someone doesn’t *kill* that many people without some kind of real drive.  Give JW a story worthy of that drive, not some half-assed power struggle in an organization that we don’t even know the name of… after three movies.

Make the goals, the motivations, something we are emotionally invested in… make the carnage something worthwhile.  Otherwise you end up with this, a movie where a guy we used to know kills a lot of faceless mooks in really cool, creative ways.

Guns, Lots of Guns A John Wick Chapter 2 Movie Review

john-wick-2-posterjpg-fe1944_1280wGuns, lots of guns… wait, wrong movie… right?

The first John Wick movie was a dark, gritty, story about revenge, heavy on gun work and with a surprising level of characterization.  To top things off, when the YouTube video of Keanu Reeves doing gun training for the sequel aired, it was straight out awesome.

Needless to say, I was pretty stoked to see the sequel.  And in some ways, it really doesn’t disappoint.  The gunwork and action scenes are phenomenal.  The choreography is fantastic, the method of John Wick’s murder spree is bloody display of art… but there’s very little of the deep motivations from the first movie.

In the first movie, John Wick is a man driven by revenge and hate.  We not only see how much has been taken from him, but we see the pettiness and brutality of the men that took it away.  We root for his vengeance, as an audience, and excuse the mass-murder rampage that results.  It’s very much like Kill Bill, in that regard.

The second movie has none of these motivations.  He’s had his revenge, he’s killed everyone in his path… and (not to spoil things, but you can guess from the fact that there is a sequel) he gets pulled right back into the life of an assassin.  John Wick kills a lot of people.  Most of them are presumably bad.  He doesn’t have the motivation or drive to do it, he has no revenge, no anger, no justification beyond the preservation of his miserable life.  In that, it feels as if the writer just didn’t really know what to do.

Spoiler (highlight to read): He does it for a sort of murky reason in that he doesn’t want to have the entire criminal underworld come after him.  In fact, he kills more people in this movie than in the last, 128 versus 77 in the first one.  He has his marker to justify, but the end result of him fulfilling the marker is the same as if he hadn’t… so why bother, why did all these other people have to die?)

In the end, John Wick Chapter Two fails to do what the first movie did: rise above being gun-porn.  Don’t get me wrong, it does that gun-porn fantastically… but it’s ultimately a shallow movie that doesn’t have the depth of characterization of its predecessor, nor does it have the interesting plot.  The villains are mono-dimensional and the lack of motivations of John Wick reduces his murderous rampage into a mass shooting event where he guns down droves of nameless mooks.

I came hoping for a story of revenge or vengeance and I walked away at the end feeling as if nothing had been resolved.  The action and acting are fantastic… the story and characterization is flat.  I recommend it for a popcorn movie, but it doesn’t achieve the depth of the original movie.

Guns, lots of guns
Guns, lots of guns…