John Wick: Chapter Two – a review

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Wicked…

Uber-violent, hyper-real and stunningly-stylised, John Wick: Chapter 2 picks up where the first film left off in more ways than one. Keanu Reeves reprises the titular role with enough dash and swagger to carry the film through its slightly over-reaching 122 minute duration and is still as cool and iconic a movie (anti)hero as you’ll find. Think Clint Eastwood on Speed (get it?).

The Rome nightclub/party/catacombs sequence might just be some of the best action captured on film in recent memory but the feeling that you’re enjoying watching an endless stream of human beings having their heads blown off and seeing their brain matter plastered everywhere can’t ultimately be escaped, which somewhat leaves you questioning the validity of the whole experience and your participation in it, let alone the wider sociological ramifications.

But it is an action film and this is the world we live in – where violence is still revered as entertainment – so let’s just stick to appreciating it within its genre…

Replete with several moments of cinematic homage, including a couple of nods to The Matrix – you can’t help but think ‘Morpheus!’ when Keanu first meets Laurence Fishburne again – and a ‘house of mirrors’ sequence hearkening back to Bruce Lee‘s finale in legendary Enter the Dragon, the sense of self-referential awareness only adds to the aesthetic of John Wick’s world. And in Wick, Reeves has found a career-resurgent character. If the suit fits…and at 52 years of age, he wears it with aplomb.

Both in terms of narrative and thematic design, John Wick 2 is far less succinct and concise than the original installment. 2014’s outing was able to maintain the taught revenge concept a little better, being over 20 minutes shorter, but in so doing never had to flesh out anything beyond the core because its sense of vengeance was so pure and propulsive. Revisiting a character who, seemingly, has already quenched his thirst for blood requires that we have a bit more by way of exposition this time around. This is handled well, with the help of charismatic support from the likes of returning Ian McShane and Lance Redddick, combined with fresh turns from Ruby Rose and Common. The latter newcomer being somewhat more believable than the former and, in fact, Rose’s mute killer is somewhat over-the-top even amidst the heightened-nearly-comicbook-reality that is John Wick. We learn more about the secret society of these underworld assassins and delve a shade darker into John Wick the man, one plagued by loss and the age-old career-killer-who-wanted-to-stop-killing-but-had-his-chance-of-redemption-cruelly-taken-away-so-now-must-kill-again-and-kill-everyone syndrome.

All in all, a highly entertaining, if drawn out and ridiculously violent, super-slick action spectacular.

 

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Kingsman: The Secret Service – a review

The name's Kingsman, Colin Kingsman

The name’s Kingsman, Colin Kingsman

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a big loud action romp, which is just what you’d expect from Matthew Vaughn, the man behind Kick Ass. This time, however, Vaughan has stepped it up a gear. Or two. The same hyper-real ultra-violence still shocks and startles but, perhaps with the advances in camera and SFX technology, now even more so than back in 2010.

Colin Firth is pitch perfect as the most gentlemanly English gentleman of them all, Harry Hart (aka secret super-spy Galahad). A hybrid somewhere between a stereotyped old Etonian and a wonderful pastiche of Roger Moore‘s Bond, if slightly more stiff-upper-lip than camp sophistication.

The film opens with a flashback of Hart losing one of his agents on a mission gone wrong which sets up the plot premise of his hunt for a worthy replacement. Enter the wisecracking street-talking free-running Eggsy, played with no less than a debutant explosion by Taron Egerton.

Eggsy must endure a gruelling and perilous training regime before becoming a Kingsman, on the way meeting his fellow hopefuls; a gaggle of public school elites, including the surprising Roxy (Sophie Cookson), who serve to further polarise his ‘from the streets’ background. The movie’s message is one of privilege versus ability,  Kingsman representing the ultimate meritocracy: if you’ve got talent and work hard then you can achieve anything. A solid message for a big budget blockbuster.

First and foremost, this is an action movie and the way it’s captured is quite incredible; either Firth trained to become a bonafide martial artist or the stunt doubles and camera trickery are that seamless that it just looks that way. In either case, watching the fight sequences you simply can’t tell and that’s impressive. Maybe the high octane camera moves, choreographed in harmony with the action, go some way to hiding the editing magic but however they achieved it the stunts are innovative, shocking and brutally brilliant all at the same time.

Samuel L. Jackson‘s affected characterisation of the evil megalomaniac super-villain, Valentine, is well weighted, intentionally getting laughs and being suitably ‘comic book’ but, as it is Samuel L. Jackson, there are glimpses of that irrepressible cool just bursting out at the seams. The casting, ever so slightly, detracts from his total conviction as the baddie. But then he has his devilish sidekick Gazelle, played with beautifully eponymous athletic, but deadly, grace by Sophia Boutella, and you wouldn’t want to mess with her.

The ever-reliable Michael Caine and Mark Strong complete the roster (along with a brief but stunning cameo from Jack Davenport) with assured performances as Firth’s peers and fellow senior statesmen of The Secret Service. Prepare yourself for some unoriginal if entertaining plot twisting and turning…

It’s Men In Black for 2015. But set in London. With spies not aliens. And instead of Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith we have Firth and Egerton. So not really anything like Men In Black. “It’s not that kind of movie”, as Valentine relishes. Don’t compare it to anything else, Kingsman is fresh in its realisation, shockingly violent in its delivery and just a great big fun romper-stomper of a ride. Strap in and enjoy.

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