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The New Pulp Fiction

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John Wick: Chapter 2 was the follow up to the sleeper hit of last year in which Keanu Reeves does bullet Kung fu and wreaks havoc on a Russian mafia organization after they kill his dog. This time around he has a new dog, still misses his wife, and still wants to be retired.

If the reluctant hitman who just wants to settle down but keeps getting dragged back into the profession
sounds like a lame film school thesis project to you, then you wouldn’t be wrong.

What both John Wick films do so well is they fully embrace the corniness of it all, so much that it essentially becomes that movie popcorn we all love. Reminiscent of ‘80s one-man army vehicles with an art-deco-gone-rogue element in the mix, John Wick 2 captures the grit and brutality of classic action filmmaking with a modern polish, which both relishes and pays homage to masterful stunt work and relentless excitement.

The film opens with a giant projection of a legendary Buster Keaton motorcycle stunt from Sherlock Jr. (1924) and provides a nice touch of reality before diving head first into total and fantastical mayhem. This opening was crucial to the enjoyment of the film, not just as a film reference to show off some respect for the classics, but also as an anchor point to make sure the context of the stunt work wasn’t just sitting in the back of our minds.

Normally things such as sound design, art direction, and production design attempt to blend in seamlessly into the background; this avoids distraction from the emotional content, while still accomplishing the psychological effect that you would have if you noticed and broke down the work. This god-like omniscience is present in most films. We need to be focused on Leo saying he’s king of the world, not the structural soundness of the railing he’s leaning on.

In John Wick the self-aware atmosphere and over the top, playful-yet-gritty tone grant the creators free reign to get fancy with subtitles, use dialogue that would never occur in conversation, and craft an entire world that makes the journey of our protagonist almost feel like a video game. 

The emotionally constipated expressions of Keanu Reeves playing a grieving husband, coupled with the deep world building that seems to keep growing every minute, allows a lot of leeway to ignore conventional action movie rules and loosen the confines of what we will and will not care about.

Most of the emotional backdrop comes  from his dog and his wife, both dead, and his wife is only seen in flashbacks. Most films wouldn’t have a leg to stand on by the time the bullets start flying, but John Wick gets us to not care so much that we inversely start caring about the craziness. It avoids being unoriginal, even while lifting directly from the rule book.

The film contains tons of blood, headshots (sometimes multiple times to the same head), and an altogether treasure trove of madness that you’d normally find surrounded by dull placeholder stereotypes in order to enjoy. John Wick‘s light, yet brutal tone is crucial since not all of the fun dialogue or cornball moments hit the delicate balance perfectly. The tide of events, however, rises above all the silly requirements we need to latch onto a movie and drowns them out with an expertly-crafted and detailed romp into a world populated by insane mercenaries and zero cops.

If seeing the hero of your film shoot at one bad guy into a crowd of innocent people and face no repercussions besides a bloody gun and a knife fight sounds too ridiculous to accept, skip the John Wick movies. But, if you’re a low life like me who loves it when any version of Keanu Reeves becomes surrounded by faceless henchmen who you know are about to have a lot of holes put in them, John Wick will definitely satisfy that craving, you sicko.


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