2017 Movies, Reviews

REVIEW: John Wick Chapter 2

In recent years, there have been only a handful of sequels have lived up to their predecessors. Think of all the disappointments. Avengers: Age of Ultron,  Anchorman 2, Iron Man 2. The list goes on and on. Thankfully, John Wick Chapter 2 not only lives up to the first film in the series but exceeds it in practically every aspect.

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The story follows the titular John Wick (Keanu Reeves), an almost mythical, unstoppable, assassin who, at the start of the previous movie, had left his violent ways behind to live a quiet, suburban life with his wife but was called back into action after his wife’s passing when enforcers stole his car and murdered his precious dog. John is called into action again, very much against his wishes, this time by Italian Crime Lord Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), due to a blood oath he made a long time ago that enabled him to escape from his life in the shadows.

The opening of the movie makes a clear statement to the audience, outlining exactly what this film is all about. That it’s going to be bigger, bolder and better than what came before. This little prologue, which involved Wick trying to recover his prized 1969 Boss 429 Mustang from Peter Stormare, (any movie that has Peter Stormare in it is automatically improved by his very presence) is extremely entertaining and amusing, it’s somewhat detached nature from the main story rather pleasantly reminded me of the way Bond movies open with a mission that is usually irrelevant in the overall arc of the story. It’s brilliantly silly at times, completely over the top, fast paced, heart pumping and, most importantly, extremely enjoyable. The tone for what is to come has been perfectly set.

John Wick Chapter 2 does everything the first film did so well except that now everything is turned up to eleven. Although, those really awesome, sweeping bird’s eye view shots from the first movie are somewhat missed. And yet, they kept the stupidly stylised subtitles. Strange.

If anybody ever wants a lesson in how to choreograph, shoot and edit action, then one need look no further than what you see on screen in this movie. Every cut is used at precisely the right time during the action scenes, to compliment the action that is happening on screen, not to hide and disguise the choreography that so many modern action movies, even great one’s like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy are guilty of.

Some of the sequences in John Wick Chapter 2 will be etched in the memories of viewers for a long time. The catacombs fight, the opening chop shop fight, Cassian and Wick taking pot shots at each other, the fight on the subway and, by far, the best Hall of Mirrors sequence captured on film since The Man With The Golden Gun. There are also a whole heap of memorable quotes this time around which shall not be spoiled here but will surely be fired back and forth between fans of the film for years to come.

It is also a beautiful film, as the first movie was. If you are a sucker for some neon then the John Wick series has to be right up your alley. The great thing about the second film in the series is that we get to go to many new and stunning locations, most notably Rome.

Every single character is so well fleshed out. They all feel like they have a real history outside of the 2 hours we see them on screen. They all have very clear identifiable traits that distinctly separate every single character from each other. Whether it’s Ruby Rose’s Ares, a deaf assassin who can only communicate via sign language, Lawrence Fishburne’s Bowery King who is as entertaining and quotable as he is mysterious, Peter Serafinowicz’s scene-stealing turn as John Wick’s very own Q-esque character or the returning cast of characters from the first John Wick movie that are for the most part expanded on and given more to do in this movie, or at least given an amusing cameo.

By far the best addition to the cast is Common as Cassian. Wow! This guy more than anybody else in either of the two movies, feels like a real equal to John Wick, somebody who can actually go toe to toe with him. Every scene he was involved in was brilliant in every sense of the word and I really have to applaud Common for being able to have the stature, stunt training and acting ability to be able to make us believe that Cassian is a real match for our almost unstoppable hero.

Reeves’ John Wick persona does feel a little more forced and less natural than the previous movie, particularly his voice. However, there can be no criticism in the level of commitment and dedication Reeves shows with his fitness, his desire to perform his own stunts (which can clearly be seen during a car related action scene where the driver’s door has been ripped off) and his almost unmatchable combat skills amongst leading Holywood actors.

The only slight issue with the movie is that it does spend quite a bit of time retreading previous ground in the first act. After the initial over the top fun sequence of Wick retrieving his car, John Wick Chapter 2 goes over many of the same beats as John Wick. John Wick returns to his home, mopes about his dead wife, watches some videos of her on his phone, plays with his dog, he meets Aurello to talk about his car, is confronted at his house by some villainous tough guys, is forced on a mission of revenge following this attack, has a quick conversation with his old police friend and then heads to the Continental Hotel in New York.

All those things literally happen in both movies and mostly in the same order as described in both. Repetition is not usually something you want in a sequel. Thankfully the retreading of previous ground does not last too long and once we get past this section of the story, the movie really kicks into gear and becomes its own beast.

If you take this movie too seriously then you are clearly going about it the wrong way. This is a movie to sit back, relax and just enjoy. It’s silly, it’s not meant to be taken seriously. Now, this is an argument that gets thrown around a lot about a lot of bad movies but the difference between John Wick Chapter 2 and the “switch your mind off” popcorn movies, is that you cannot switch your mind off during this film. As a viewer, you are constantly engaged, consistently challenged by what you see before you. Everything on screen is not just loud and explosive things lazily put there to just distract you from your most likely lacklustre lives, every single frame of this picture and every single aspect of it is carefully crafted to near perfection; the cinematography, the choreography, the stunt work, the sound work, the editing are firing on all cylinders. What is the difference between this and most modern action movies? Well, the people who made this clearly care about what they are doing and doesn’t hurt that they also happen to be really good at what they do.

After some initial retreading of ground early on in the story, John Wick Chapter 2 quickly steps out of the shadow of its predecessor and stretches its legs. It does what every good sequel should do. It builds on the initial film, brilliantly expands the world it is set in and most important of all it takes everything that made the first film great and elevates every aspect to a new level. The bar has been set very high for John Wick Chapter 3.

Eating: 8.5/10

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2017 Movies, Reviews

REVIEW: T2 Trainspotting

T2 Trainspotting. The film that fans have been waiting for just over 20 years. After watching this movie however, fans now might wish they had waited a little longer.

 

t2-trainsPhoto by Jaap Buitendijk – © 2016 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Picking up 20 years after the original Trainspotting, Mark Renton (Ewan McGreggor) makes his first trip home to Edinburgh since betraying his friends and taking off with the majority of the £16,000 from their heroin deal. He reconnects with his old friends Spud (Ewan Bremner) and Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller). Meanwhile, Franco Begbie (Robert Carlyle), fresh out of prison, looks to get revenge on the man who cheated him all those years ago.

Over the years there has been so much talk about a Trainspotting sequel. It had been on the cards for a long time but they always said that they wanted to let the actors age naturally and wait for the right story. Well, the actors definitely aged. As for the story, well where do I begin?

Let’s start with that there is no real story. This movie is too preoccupied with reflecting on past glories to have any real story. At the start of the story, I liked the direction they were going in. The characters were nowhere in their lives, so their story was going nowhere. Now I’m perfectly fine with a movie that starts slow. As a matter a fact, a lot of the greatest movies ever created start very slow and gradually build and build into something great. The problem with T2 Trainspotting is that it never builds. It never gets out of first gear. It just trundles along without ever picking up the pace.

The energy is lacking, there’s no forward momentum, even the soundtrack is extremely lacklustre (White Man in Hammersmith Palais aside) and it’s kind of surprising how quickly you’ll probably find yourself losing interest in the characters you once loved. Sometimes it’s better to leave things well enough alone, or you know, wait until you have a better story to tell. Having said that, the movie does have some highlights and frankly, Danny Boyle always manages to bring something that you are unlikely to see in most mainstream movies.

Boyle does a very commendable job trying to inject this movie with some spirit, but the stillborn story cannot be kickstarted into life despite his best efforts. The one good thing that can be said about this movie, is that it does not take anything away from the greatest of the original, which definitely does happen to some sequels. The problem is that even though it doesn’t detract from the original, it doesn’t add anything to it either.

Sequels can be a tricky mistress, especially after a lot of time has elapsed between them. You need to stay true to the themes and spirit of the original but you also need to progress the characters and move in a different direction to the original. Whilst T2 definitely does stay true to the themes and the spirit of the original, it mostly fails to progress the characters and take the story in a new direction.

There were so many times when I felt like the story was finally going to kick into gear. Sadly, it never did. I had real hope in the months building up to the release of this film that the story would be great because I naively believed that to get everybody involved in the original would only get back together if they had found the right story. Apparently, that was not a requirement. Clearly everybody involved is passionate about the project so I’m not accusing them of getting the band back together just for a paycheck but it feels like they started from a very weak base and although they tried their best to build something good on it, it’s an uphill battle when the base (the story) is weak.

So the story isn’t the best, well surely the brilliant, personable, electrifying, engaged characters we all loved from the first Trainspotting will carry us through it! Sadly even this isn’t the case. Renton is boring in this movie, the only time he seems to have any life is during his updated “Choose Life” speech, which sadly doesn’t quite stick the landing the same way it did in 1996. Sick Boy has some interesting things going on but none of it really seems to connect and Spud, well, the entirety of his story seems very contrived.

The only one of the main cast who shines anywhere close to how they did in the original is Robert Carlyle as Begbie. Fresh off of playing Rumplestiltskin in the ABC fairytale series Once Upon A Time, (the only reason I mention that is because I’ve never seen the show and can’t for the life of me imagine Carlyle being in a family friendly Disney show) Carlyle slots back into the role of Begbie with so much easy and swagger one suspects he might just have been secretly revisiting the role behind closed doors over the years to stay in practice. His performance is electric, every second he is on screen the movie comes alive.

In a movie that is far too hung up in the past, Begbie’s relationship with his son Franco Junior was a particular highlight of the movie. The difference between these two generations, between father and son, was too brilliant. Whilst Begbie assumes his son will want to follow in his footsteps, to turn to a life of crime due to him growing up in the same area devoid of any real prospects like his father, Franco Jr. instead wants to don a suit and study a diploma in Hotel Management. This story was by far the most effective way T2 Trainspotting showed us how times had changed between the two Trainspotting movies.

That’s not to say it isn’t effective is showing us how times have changed in other ways. Whether it’s with widescreen televisions and silly Instagram filters, or society’s ever growing obsession with fitness.

There were so many aspects of this movie that made me want to like it. A scene involving Renton and Sick Boy in a patriotic Orangeman establishment is pure genius. There is one of the greatest references/parodies of Raging Bull ever seen in entertainment history. Personally, as both a massive James Bond and The Clash fan, any movie that jumps straight from a classic Connery-era John Barry composed James Bond song to one of the best Clash songs should be a home run. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

As I’ve stated, Begbie’s story, in particular, his story with his son was most compelling. The one aspect I really loved in this movie was the role of Kelly McDonald’s character Diane. She did not feel shoehorned it at all and best of all she did not outstay her welcome. Perfectly handled.

To be honest, I’ve never been the biggest fan of the first movie. Yes, obviously it is a very good movie, perhaps even a great movie but I’ve never really thought it stood out as the clear best in the pantheon of Danny Boyle films. So my negativity here is not because my expectations were too high. Even for those that have not been waiting for this movie all these years and still, this will still probably feel like a letdown. I think Danny Boyle would be best in future to experiment and pursue various different genres of movies as he has done through his career instead of returning to his former glories. Go back to pushing the envelope instead of fawning over the past. Especially after Steve Jobs which one could argue is right up there with Boyle’s best and by far one of the most underrated films of recent years, T2 Trainspotting is a disappointing step back.

Whilst by no means a bad movie, T2 Trainspotting is a massive step down from the original and if judged on its own merits is not very interesting. Nostalgia, a few entertaining highlights along the way, and a healthy heap of social commentary about the modern world make this sequel somewhat entertaining in parts. This movie is unlikely to leave you with a lust for life, but a lust for a much more engaging movie.

Rating: 6.5/10

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