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Archive for July 8th, 2017

Sequels are a tricky thing.  Generally, if a movie is a sequel, but still ends up with its own name, then I expect that sequel or not, I’m going to see a film that is a story in its own right, and not merely a half-hearted attempt to capture whatever made the first movie a success. (The various Disney sequels of the 90’s come to mind.)  So with this in mind, you might understand my hesitation in watching this movie, given the typical dreck that usually is put out with a “2” in its name.  As it turns out, I think I liked this installment of John’s story more than the first one.

The movie business has known for some time that gratuitous violence puts people in seats, but there is a subgenre that can only be categorized as “ode to violence”.  Sometimes, it takes the form of a stylized, almost cartoonish violence, such as Quentin Tarantino employs, and sometimes it is just raw, and brutal, like in Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” and “Straw Dogs”, or the original version of “Get Carter”.  John Wick, Chapter 2 seamlessly melds the stylized with the brutal by hitting the trifecta of film making.  It has a good story, good dialogue, and each and every frame is beautifully composed. I mean truly beautifully and heartbreakingly composed.

The movie opens with Wick continuing to pick off outlying members of the Tarasov family, largely because the remaining Tarasov was stupid enough to steal Wick’s car.  When Wick comes to get it, and the predictable body count ensues, the gangster has time to dread the knock on his door which he knew was going to come.  A conversation Tarasov has with his lieutenant about Wick’s lethality harkens back to the first film, and what Wick can accomplish with just a pencil…a moment of foreshadowing made bloodily manifest later in the movie.  While the encounter, when it came, did not end as we have come to expect, it still felt right.

We are then given the impression that he will now get to live the rest of his life in peace, while knowing that John will never ever get that peace, and so when the knock on his door finally comes, it is odd that John himself is almost more annoyed than afraid.  We learn that John’s famous “impossible task” came at a price.  John had to give a marker to a soft-spoken Italian gangster who is a scion of crime royalty.  This man, Sabatino, wants John to kill his sister, who inherited their father’s “seat at the high table”, a governing body of crime.  John, begged him not to ask for the favor, and Sabatino accepted, regretfully, before leaving, and like others before him, he chose to take something from John that was dear to him.

There was so much more to this movie than the first installment.  We learn more about the world that John blazes a bloody trail through, including the fact that it has rules, which are enforced by people even more brutal than he.  But we also learn the scope and reach of Wick’s own reputation in this world, and the calm acceptance with which so many of its characters acquiesce to the choices they have made in life.  When one of his intended targets reacts not with fear, but calm when he comes for her, the exchange is intriguing.  In perhaps one of the most honest moments in either of the films, she refers to him as “Death’s own emissary.”

The truth is that even without the good story and dialogue, this film is still a feast for the eyes, as the composition and lighting create a treat, including a sequence in a hall of mirrors that is reminiscent of the climax in “The Man With the Golden Gun”, but much, much more thoughtfully filmed.

In the end, when John breaks one of the cardinal rules of the world he lives in, he is confronted one last time by Winston, the shadowy owner of the New York Continental.  Winston informs him that his life is forfeit, and after a demonstration that starkly shows that there will be no safe place for him anywhere, Winston gives him an hour.  Wick, true to form, tells Winston to tell whoever choses to come after him that he will kill them.  All of them.  Winston smiles, and says with conviction, “Of course you will.”

I was left with the belief that Winston actually believes it, and although he could never be obvious about it, that is rooting for John.

The film’s deleted scenes also lead me to this conclusion, as in two of them, Sabatino acts in ways that clearly break with the traditions and norms of this violent world, and in an exchange between Winston and Sabatino about the latter’s excesses and naked ambition, Sabatino reveals his contempt for these rules and norms, because they “stand in the way of progress”, while Winston calmly retorts that he believes just the opposite.  It is a theme repeated throughout the movie, once when Sabatino angrily makes a demand of Winston, who calmly reminded the upstart prince that he was in Winston’s house, and according to the rules of their society, he, and he alone was master there, and again when it was stated that “without rules, we run with the animals”.

The story is a tragic tale.  Wick is feared by his peers, beloved by the servant class, and the leaders of this world alike.  As the truth is revealed, we learn that the boogeyman (Wick) made a deal with the Devil (Sabatino) to leave the life.  When the Devil came to collect, he asked the unthinkable in order to satisfy the debt…putting the boogeyman in an untenable position.  When Wick came for payback, as a marked man, his only leverage with people in a position to help is that in killing the Devil, he will stop his unquenchable desire for power, and in so doing, stop an all-out war in the underworld.  When he actually kills the Devil, he breaks an unbreakable rule, causing the only people he could call friends to turn on him in order to maintain the order of their society.   In one fell swoop, Wick made himself both the savior and pariah of his world, and when the severity of the consequences become real to him, he appears to resign himself to face it the way he always has…with a murderous resolve.

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