John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) – A Good Sequel That Raises the Stakes

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    “John Wick: Chapter 2” is the best kind of sequel. It raises the stakes, gives greater exploration of the world and further develops the characters. Sadly what keeps it from being on par with the first film is it isn’t nearly as tightly written and the ending could have been handled differently. I wouldn’t call it great because the cons it carries keep it from being that, it is no “Empire Strikes Back” but it is better than “Die Hard 2.”

      The film was directed by Chad Stahelski, written by Derek Kolstad and produced by David Leitch, Basil Iwanyk and Erica Lee.

     The story picks up where the last film left off with Wick taking out Viggo’s brother to get his car back so he can go back into retirement. Sadly his retirement doesn’t last long as Santino calls upon a “Marker” that had been formed between them when he helped John complete his impossible task. When John refuses he destroys his home, forcing John to fulfill the “Marker” and kill his sister, who sits on the Assassin High Table.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Premise – The premise involves John being pulled back into the world of assassins after he finishes back his car as the stakes are raised as he has to kill someone who will put an even bigger bounty on his head. I enjoy the “lose lose” of the situation that John is put into. It forces creativity and thinking outside the box.

The Opening – The opening is fantastic and one of the best action sequences in the whole film. In it we see John get his car back and make peace with Abram (Viggo’s brother) after he kills all his men and gets his car back. It is powerful and we see that John is still honorable even when others are not.

The Action – This film has a lot of action in it and because of it there is a lot of great action. From the fight in the catacombs in Rome, to the Museum fight and the car chase at the beginning…all of these run laps around the Bond films out of recent memory.

 The World – The world is intricate as we learn more about what holds the world of assassins in place. From the Continental having hotels all over the world, the High Council of 12 that runs everything and the Bowery King, and underground information broker in NY who owns the streets.

The Characters – The characters are the best part and there are a lot of great ones, though the villain is once again the least interesting character in the film…much like Viggo’s son in the first film.

Charon – Charon is the man who welcomes people into the Continental and this time he is Wick’s ally as he takes care of his dog and takes him in before the Continental excommunicates him. I hope he’ll be back for the sequel.

Ares – Ares is the deaf assassin that serves Santino. She is a great character and holds off Wick on multiple occasions. I wish we could have learned why she is serving Santino as there was clearly more there. She is the final boss for Wick before he finally ends Santino in the Continental. Ruby Rose does a fantastic job.

Gianna – Gianna is Santino’s sister and one of the members of the High Table. She kills herself rather than letting John kill her and they have a great conversation as we see that she always ended things on her terms. Like Santino she is ruthless though as our first scene with her is her shutting down someone whose land she has taken in her rise to power. We learn that her and John are friends too.

Cassian – Cassian is Gianna’s protector and Common does a great job of showing him to be the honorable assassin. He is respectful of John, even as he is trying to kill him and we see how both of their codes keep them at odds where they would be friends in other circumstances.

Aurelio – Leguizamo is back, though it is only to pick up John’s car and joke around about when it will be fixed. He is a great character though and I hope he is an ally in the next film.

Winston – McShane does an amazing job as this character. In this we see he like Cassian is bound by honor and he gives Wick a day before he excommunicates him as well as giving him the “Marker” that Santino had placed him under so he can use it to free himself someday. You see regret from Winston but also hope that Wick will survive.

The Bowery King – Fishburne plays the Bowery King, an information broker who tags pigeons with chips and microphones so he knows what is going on everywhere. He is insane but has respect for Wick for sparing his life. I hope we see him again as he mentions that Wick owes him when he hides, heals and gives Wick the gun to take out Santino.

Okay: Santino – Santino betrays Wick and there is no reason behind it. It is implied they have a history but it is never explored fully. I didn’t hate the character so I won’t put him as a con, but he could have been so much more. I wanted more history and less action and he could have been how to do that.

The Ending – The ending has Wick excommunicated and the High Table raising the bounty internationally on his head as he is running away with his dog but holding the “Marker” which maybe his salvation. I liked it but wish he had found a more creative way to end Santino. I wish he’d still had the Continental. Him having nothing makes his survival much more questionable and if they don’t kill him next film (given he has no allies) it will be difficult to take seriously. He needed some allies.

Cons: When the Action Goes Too Long – There is a ton of action in this film and at times it goes on way too long. I get this is an action movie but what made the first film better is the action had purpose and didn’t overstay it’s welcome. When Alfie Allen is taken out it is quick but here the action sequences are dragged out and it detracted from the amazing narrative that was going on.

    This is a sequel you should check out if you like action films and were a fan of the first film. The world is further developed and the stakes are raised in such a way that they could end this series as a Trilogy easily. After that I hope they don’t do anymore, they can’t raise the stakes and take anymore from John Wick, so I hope they end this series next movie. I really like John Wick and I’d hate for to be “Die Harded.” This film is a solid sequel and is once again a lot of fun in a world Keanu Reeves clearly owns.

Final Score: 8.9 / 10

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) – The “Star Wars” Mostly Works But Drags Though the Ending is Fantastic

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     “Rogue One” is a good movie. It isn’t a great movie…not by a long shot as it has structurual problems and a lot of the characters don’t have arcs and this goes for the overall structure too. If you want an experience in the “Star Wars Universe” though, this is a good experience of that, and for what it’s worth it is better than “Return of the Jedi” but I’m one of those people who doesn’t really like that film and only finds it okay.

      The film was directed by Gareth Edwards, written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy and produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur, Simon Emanual.

      The story involves the Rebels getting the plans for the Death Star as told through the eyes of the group that comes to be Rogue One, lead by the extremely rebellious Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), daughter of the man (Mads Mikklesen) who designs the Death Star under threat from his former friend Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn).

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of “Star Wars” in that galaxy a long time ago in a galaxy far far away…is one that I care about. I am a fan and not just of the Original Trilogy, I love KOTOR, the Thrawn Trilogy, The Clone Wars (3D and 2D) and Rebels. I grew up on the games that are no longer cannon and this is sci. fi. fantasy in it’s base form. This film captures so much of that as we really see the breadth and strength of the Empire and that is one thing that kept me in this film through it all.

The Cinematography – Gareth Edwards knows how to direct and this film is beautiful in the scenes that are shot, especially those of the Death Star and the Space Battles.

The Action – The action is the strongest part as the action has consequences. Characters die and like “The Empire Strikes Back,” we see the consequences of the Rebellion. This can’t be stated enough and knowing that the Rebellion is only going to suffer more in the coming film lends this film strength.

Grand Moff Tarkin as Character – The character of Tarkin is fantastic even if the CGI is really good video game CGI but not quite there CGI. I still enjoyed the things he did even if how he looked was a little distracting. They should have just got a look a like, they did in “Revenge of the Sith.” Beyond that though, his character is a wonderful snake who is using and disposing people to meet his final ends of holding his power and position and destroying the Rebellion. He is the greatest threat outside of Vader through the film.

Darth Vader – We got to Vader’s Palace on Mustafar! The fact that this is even a thing makes me happy as it fits, the “Dark Side” gains it’s power from pain and rage and that is where Vader lost everything so Krennic visiting him here (and getting strangled for trying to assume on Vader) gives us more to Vader’s mystique. He also kills a lot of the rebels and shows why he is one of the only 2 Sith in the Galaxy.

K-2SO – Alan Tudyk is wonderful as the cynical reprogrammed Imperial Droid and he is the only one of the “Rogue One” rebels with an arc. He goes from uncaring from someone who sacrifices for others. I really like how cynical he is and how nihilistic he is about everything. He is very Marvinesque (From “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”) and it works. It sucks the other cast members weren’t given an arc.

Getting the Plans – Getting the plans is really well done as we see Jyn and Cassian go undercover at the Imperial Intelligence homeworld to get the plans that Jyn’s father implanted in the system. It is really well done and it is this battle and heist that is easily the best part of the film. There is cost, consequences and action…it is a shame we couldn’t have gotten more of this earlier.

The Final – The rebels barely escape Vader with the plans and all of the Rogue One characters die. This is powerful and I like that for the first time since “Empire Strikes Back” the Empire felt like a threat. “Star Wars Rebels” is mostly miss on this issue sadly and most “Star Wars” lore is about the victories…but all that does is make the Empire look weak. This film did some work to change that with the final.

Okay: Rogue One Team – Bunch of guys from a Temple Guardians (a cynic and a blind man) to a rebel intelligence agent (Cassian) to K-2, an Imperial Pilot who joined the rebellion (Bodi) and Jyn. Outside of K-2 most of these folks are just there. They don’t get any arc and are just pulled along by the plot, which is sad as the idea of all of these characters was good, but none of it went anywhere.

The Ersos – The Father and Daughter relationship was supposed to be central but it wasn’t. Mads and Felicity did fine with what little they were given but we didn’t get anything on their relationship to the Empire or Krennic. They were pulled along by the plot rather than shaping the plot. This isn’t a con as it didn’t make me angry and it wasn’t bad…but it wasn’t good either.

Orso Krennic – This dude is just a pawn which for a guy who is the main villain was a waste. I cared about him more than Hux from “The Force Awakens” though as Krennic was fighting against a system that wanted to crush him. Hux was at the head of his game and was still winy.

The Cons: CGI Lore Characters – Leia and Tarkin look like video game characters. I get the look they were going for but it still looks not quite right. It worked in the story but it also took me out of the story. They should have just used look alikes.

Extremely Slow First Half – I felt like I was nodding off early on until the Death Star is finally used. This is due to characters not fully being developed and the film going way to slow. There were so many missed opportunities for character development and growth in the first hour that were never taken.

Character Arcs? – None of the “Rogue One” cast have character arcs…and they need them for us to fully feel their loss. Outside of K-2 I cared way more about Vader and Tarkin since I knew from from prior works…this film needed to develop the main cast and it failed to deliver.

   This was a film that I’d recommend to anyone who is a fan of Star Wars. I enjoyed it even though I wouldn’t call it great, it isn’t “The Force Awakens” (a film with characters that had actual arcs and growth) but it is better than “Return of the Jedi” and easily my 4th favorite “Star Wars” film. There was the potential to do so much more, either making this a complete heist type film (an under appreciated genre) or make this an ensemble film. I wanted to love Bodi, I wanted to care about to Orsos…but I was never given the chance too. We didn’t get exploration of what they really desired and were fighting for and that went for the rest of “Rogue One” which makes the deaths matter not nearly as much as they should.

Final Score: 8.1 / 10