John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) – Review

John Wick (2014) was a hard act to follow. An action film at its finest, the first entry in the series showed audiences across the world that you don’t need grime on the lens and shaky cam to make an action scene. Clean shots, interesting settings and, above all, beautifully choreographed fight sequences are what made John Wick fantastic, and they’re what make its sequel just as good, but not quite better.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) follows John as, after the events of the first film, he attempts to return to his previous retired life, only to be dragged back into the mysterious assassin underworld by an old acquaintance.

Chapter 2 ups the ante with huge fight scenes, dynamic settings and very nearly kills John Wick so many times that I have no idea how he will survive the inevitable sequel. Perhaps he won’t; that would be interesting.

Keanu Reeves proves himself a master of action films once again.

While not quite as lacking in the narrative department as the first film, John Wick: Chapter 2 does little to push the story along other than give John more people to kill. Many might say this is what holds the film, and its predecessor, back from being excellent but I disagree. If you want slow, go watch There Will Be Blood (2007).

However, if you want simple, stark cinematography and fight choreography that feels more like ballet than people shooting lots of other people, then this is the film for you. These are films that know what they do well, and they focus on it. To the point that it’s almost exhausting. In fact, there is so much action packed into John Wick: Chapter 2 that it’s almost a detriment, as the film reaches the point of struggling to find new and interesting ways for John Wick to kill more and more people.

There is more substance to this film, however, and the curtain is pulled back on more of the shadowy underworld of assassins we glimpsed in the first film, with its gold coin currency and secret hotels around the globe. While this doesn’t really add much to the film except filler between excellent fight after excellent fight, it is an interesting world and one I hope to see expanded further in the eventual sequel.

John Wick: Chapter 2 is as much of a thrill ride as the first film and, though it doesn’t quite match up to the relentless brutality of John Wick, it adds enough into the franchise to make it a worthwhile addition and has me excited for a third instalment.

Grade: B+

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Deepwater Horizon (2016) – Review

deepwaterhorizonposterThe Deepwater Horizon explosion was a sudden and dramatic incident which preceded the worst environmental disaster in US history. When I first heard about this film, I was irritated by the idea of trivialising such a tragedy by trying to make it into an exciting action film. I was very wrong.

This is a deadly serious, tragic film about real people struggling to survive an epic disaster that took the lives of 11 people. Deepwater Horizon does not shy away from pointing fingers, specifically at BP, but it manages not to make it annoying until the epilogue and it seems justified considering the part that BP and the other companies involved played in allowing this tragedy to occur.

Thankfully, it doesn’t do this by giving us over the top characters but real, skilled people just trying to do their job properly and live their lives. Mark Wahlberg is great in the lead, a grounded intelligent man who is level-headed under pressure, he comes across as the everyday hero throughout this film and it never really strays into the unbelievable, though there are moments of this at times with other characters.

Grounded, real characters are what make this film more than just a visually stunning disaster flick.
Grounded, real characters are what make this film more than just a visually stunning disaster flick.

The rest of the cast is similarly excellent, with Kurt Russell and John Malkovich also delivering strong performances. Dylan O’Brien (who you may recognise from the Maze Runner films) is surprisingly great and, while he doesn’t get too many chances to shine, he shows some strong acting skills that will have me keeping an eye out for him in future films.

Far and above, Deepwater Horizon‘s greatest strength is its visuals. Once the shit hits the fan, this film becomes stunning. Wide shots of the oil rig are shocking as it is engulfed in fire and explosions rock parts of the structure. There are parts of the film where shaky cam is used a little too liberally but there are plenty of beautiful static shots to make up for that.

Likewise, sound plays a great part in helping you feel how catastrophic this event was, as actors are thrown about by explosions and fight their way through choking clouds of burning smoke, you can really get into the raw action of the scenes.

This intensity is quickly becoming a speciality for Peter Berg, who previously directed the excellent Lone Survivor (2013). While Deepwater Horizon takes a well-earned, but heavy-handed chunk of time to drop the blame on BP, and honour the people who died in the tragedy, it is visually spectacular and gripping throughout.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016) – Review

jackreacherposterTom Cruise is in his element in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. A well-paced action film that knows exactly what it is, Never Go Back is thoroughly enjoyable but doesn’t quite live up to the relentless forward momentum of the previous film. Based on a long running book series known for being formulaic, this film surprised me by not just resting on the laurels of the first. While it doesn’t do anything spectacular or new, it manages to switch things up enough to keep fans of the first film more than interested, and ticks all the right boxes for any lover of the action genre.

This is not a character-driven film, but the acting is solid throughout and there is enough plot and character development to keep you more or less invested in the lead characters and their relationships, though a bland villain does little to help this along. One of the main villains barely makes an appearance throughout and the other could be a cardboard cutout with a gun for all it would help, he doesn’t even have a name!

Cobie Smulders delivers a strong performance alongside Cruise
Cobie Smulders delivers a strong performance alongside Cruise.

Tom Cruise maintains his characteristic intensity but the stoicism of the character allows for little else. If anything, he is less intense and less brutal than in the previous instalment, which is somewhat of a disappointment but may be down the addition of new protagonists for this outing. Cobie Smulders (of Avengers fame) and Danika Yarosh (who you may know from Heroes: Reborn) join Tom Cruise in a departure from the lone wolf aspect of the first film. This works fairly well, with some easy exposition and nice character development moments helping to flesh out the film somewhat, but unfortunately seems to cause the film to lose the unrelenting brutality that made me love the original, as it pushes too hard to emotionally affect the audience at times.

Director Edward Zwick is possibly the biggest letdown of the film. For someone whose previous work includes Blood Diamond and The Last Samurai, a generic action flick is the least of what we should be expecting. This is far from a bad film, it’s a solid action film that many people will enjoy but, with a strong cast and a director capable of beautiful action sequences blended with real character-driven stories, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back ultimately falls short of what I was hoping for.