Keanu Reeves Delivers an Outstanding Performance, Creating a Film Rife With Skill, Substance, and Style
By: Brenton Mitchell
Over the past decade the quality of action films have degraded into a mosh of ill conceived plots filled with explosions, cliches, and forced sequels. But in 2014, “John Wick” released to not only box office success, but garnered a cult following due to its delicious cinematography, world building, and glorious action.
“John Wick 2,” directed by Chad Stahelski takes us back to that world. Giving us another look into a secret society of assassins, and the trials of a man who just wants to walk away.
The film picks up right where its predecessor left off, with John finishing his quest to get back what was taken from him: his car.
With his mission complete, John packs up his weapons and enters back into retirement – or so he thinks. An unpaid debt forces him back into the world he had worked so hard to leave, and to complete his quest for peace he’ll have to fight his way out.
Like the first movie, the plot of “John Wick 2” is deceptively simple, used merely as a way to direct the story and provide a foundation for the visuals that craft its true substance.
This isn’t to say that the film is shallow, rather that the real excitement and intrigue lies in the details given throughout the film such as the inner workings of the secret society of assassins. The culture and code of ethics these contract killers adhere to, the way they interact with each other, and how John himself fits into this world.
Here lies the first example of Chad Stahelski’s genius, as he uses film elements to parallel the main concepts of the story itself. Specifically, the same way that John Wick himself is a weapon, the cinematographic elements Stahelski uses are treated with the same skill and dexterity.
A weapon is a tool meant to be used at the appropriate time in the appropriate way, where overuse only serves to weaken the desired effect. As such, Stahelski uses music, exposition, and dialogue only when absolutely necessary.
A main reason behind the cult following John Wick has garnered is due to Stahelski’s intelligent directing. Especially his trust in the intelligence of the audience, for he detracts from the usual ham-fisted action movie explanations and instead lets the audience figure out the workings of the world for themselves.
This is an excellent way for developing John Wick as a character, as the audience understands his status in the world purely due to the way other characters refer to him. The epic main character should never have to awkwardly explain what makes them so revered, the way they appear on screen should say everything that needs to be said.
While in regards to box office appeal John Wick wasn’t a blockbuster success, it quickly gathered cult fandom through its refreshing take on action and gunplay. The glue holding it together being Keanu Reeves’ perfect performance, which isn’t surprising since the role itself was specifically tailored to fit him.
Most action movies are hampered not by story, but by skill of the lead actors themselves. Quick frequent cuts are routinely used to hide the parts where stunt doubles are substituted in, creating action that feels disjointed and impactful.
This doesn’t apply to Reeves, who extensively trained his body and skills to be able to perform the majority of the action he does on screen, allowing Stahelski to keep the camera steady and the scenes clear.
This is a visual treat for the audience, who don’t have to play a game of fill in the blanks every time the main character throws a punch.
The lighting throughout the film is a real treat to see, fitting the tone of each scene perfectly and really increasing the immersion. Even better is the use of sound, or rather the lack thereof, as Stahelski routinely cuts the music to increase the impact of every punch, stab, or gunshot.
The film’s tone was handled in a very interesting manner, as it manages to retain the “serious” action film vibe, while also seamlessly interspersing comedic elements to great effect. There were multiple scenes that transitioned from an intense fight into a hilarious moment without breaking immersion.
In the end, “John Wick 2” is an incredibly strong film with great action and comedic elements that will leave audiences in multiple stages of awe. Keanu Reeves is at his best here, portraying a character that blurs the lines between fiction and reality, while also providing depth and intrigue into his dark world.