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

john-wick-2-keanu-reeves-the-sequel-to-john-wick

    “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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Terminator Salvation (2009): When Redemption Means Death

Terminator Salvation

    We continue the “Terminator Franchise” review with “Terminator Salvation.” “Terminator Salvation” was a decent film. It had a consistent character arc and kept the theme of redemption and change going on throughout it. I also enjoyed a lot of the casting choices they made, though it wasn’t perfect and I’d still rate “The Terminator” and “T2” above this film because they were much more focused so didn’t feel long at any point. This one does drag at times and doesn’t do as much as it could have with those reflective moments.

    The film was directed by Joseph McGinty “McG” Nichol, written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris and produced by Derek Anderson, Moritz Borman, Victor Kubicek and Jeffrey Silver.

    The story begins in the past with Dr. Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter) giving Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) another chance at life after death if he donates his body to their cause. He agrees and wakes up in the future where the Terminators are fighting to annihilate humanity. John Connor (Christian Bale) is seeking Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) to protect him and the Machines are too. When Reese runs into Marcus he becomes his protector and later when Reese is captured it is Marcus who is the best bet to infiltrate Skynet when they discover that he is a Cyborg.

The Pros: The Terminators – The Terminators are great in this! There a whole variety of them from HK’s that fly, T-600s, Tanks and even the T-800 makes an appearance and nearly kills John and Marcus. They feel like a threat and it takes human ingenuity to defeat them as they can take a lot of hits and fight until they are dead. The designs and their actions were some of the best part of this film.

The Resistance – The resistance is torn between those who believe in John as a Messiah and those who think he is a false prophet (mostly those in leadership) this could have been explored more but I’m going to give them a point for the idea as no group has full unity.

Kyle Reese – Anton Yelchin is great as the teenage Kyle Reese! We see him taking care of a mute girl and that he has traps set in the city that help him kill Terminators. He also gets Marcus to care about anyone outside of himself as Reese is always protecting the mute child Star. They are the heart of this as it is their resistance that keeps others going who are also trapped and they are why John Connor attacks Skynet so he can rescue them.

Blair Williams – Blair is a pilot who saves Marcus and is saved by Marcus and it is due to her rescuing him after the Resistance plans to kill Marcus that he becomes good. She is trusting and is one of the few good people in the world as we see her never seek to kill, only to protect herself and others. Moon Bloodgood does a great job.

John Connor – Christian Bale is fantastic as John! In him we see a man wrestling with his destiny while also trying to keep his humanity as people lose theirs all around him. He is desperate and paranoid but changes when Marcus shows him that not everything is as hopeless as it seems and people risk it all as in the end Marcus risks his life for John and John ends the film talking about the long fight ahead and how there is hope.

Marcus Wright – Marcus is a blank slate for a lot of the help as he just lashes out and is angry and full of guilt. That changes when Kyle Reese and Blair remind him that he has a second chance to be a better person and he takes it and becomes a protector, even protecting the Resistance who tried to kill him and torture him. In the end he finally gives his life to save John too as he found his purpose for having a second chance at life. Sam Worthington does a good job. In the end redemption means death for him. As it turns out the entire film he’d been seeking redemption for the crimes he’d been killed for.

The Cons: The Resistance Leaders – They mostly yell and tell John Connor “no.” They are just there to show that the leaders have lost their humanity so when the Terminators find them using their own weapon against them I didn’t mind. They were just there to be a threat to John Connor and not actual characters.

Meaningless Minor Characters – John Connor’s wife Kate and his second in command Barnes are just kind of there. They are there to hate on Marcus for being a cyborg and that is about it. They could have been replaced by anyone and it wouldn’t have mattered, which is a shame as they are connected to John and I wanted to learn why and what their relationships to him meant.

Skynet and Marcus’s Free Will – Skynet tries to get Marcus to kill John and tells him he was a plant, but he was a plant with free will so it just ends up being a stupid plan. We see Dr. Kogan who was one of the early creators of Skynet apparently but I never believed she had any hold over Marcus and him being a machine without free will was never established earlier. This was a weak thing that really brought down the film and kept it from being good.

Slow at Times – There are a few action scenes that drag, especially early on when Marcus is exploring the wasteland. The film could have been half and hour shorter and that would have made it a good film as the drag would not have happened.

Plot Armor – Kyle Reese is captured by Skynet at one point, I guess they didn’t kill him because they wanted John…but if they had just killed him John wouldn’t exist anymore. This was an issue I had as if Kyle was going to be captured it should have been at the end, the machines had him for days and did not kill him.

Gratuitous Nudity – At one point it is raining and Blair takes off her shirt. Marcus looks and that is the entire scene except him saving her from a rape later. Really? It is just poor storytelling and gratuitous sexualizing of a pretty cool character.

   This was an enjoyable film and for any fan of this franchise this has the heart an soul that “Terminator 3” never had. It still has issues such as Skynet and the Resistance leaders not being fully fleshed or feeling like real characters, and Blair’s gratuitous naked shot was annoying and is far too common in films…but the main characters work. I cared about what happened to Kyle Reese and John Connor and even managed to care about Marcus Wright so has sacrifice at the end to save John Connor actually meant something. When I return to this series it will be for “Genisys” and later a rating of the films from Worst to Best. So far it has been a good adventure.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10