JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2

Director: Chad Stahelski (2017) BBFC cert: 15

Keanu Reeves’ career blasts back into black as the sharp suited assassin in this blistering thriller sequel.

It’s a super stylish, extraordinarily violent action spectacular which offers non stop ferocious thrills.

With little fanfare the first film tore through cinema back in 2014, shooting up the box office charts and killing the competition.

It delivered a much needed hit for the ever popular star who was once again in great need of a boost. Reeves has been quite since then but there’s no ignoring him here.

We pick up where the first finished. Having avenged his pet dog and recovered his car from the Russian gangsters who stole it, the multilingual hitman, Wick, is once again looking forward to a peaceful retirement.

But Riccardo Scamarcio’s powerful Italian crime lord makes Wick and offer he can’t refuse. As the villainous, ambitious and smooth talking Santino D’Antonio, he needs his own sister assassinated and Wick owes him a blood debt.

However if Wick succeeds, it will allow D’Antonio to takeover not just Rome, but Wick’s hometown of New York.

The relentless barrage of action sequences combine the sleek sophistication of the James Bond series, the elegant sumptuous design of vampire flicks and the dynamic violence of Asian martial arts movies.

Enabling the short fused Wick to burn the candle at both ends is an armoury of guns, the most cool car, a wardrobe of gorgeous suits, and residence at a chain of high end hotels.

The inventive violence takes place on subways, in catacombs and at parties, ending with a showdown in Central Park.

British actors Ian McShane and Peter Serafinowicz add a touch of class. Reeves’ co-star from The Matrix movies, Laurence Fishburne brings the menace.

The Hollywood union of stuntmen has long agitated for an Oscar to be established to honour their work. If one were to be awarded, the stunt team here would be a shoo in for the thorough shoe-ing their members receive here.

For what they accomplish, I hope their danger money was on double time.

@ChrisHunneysett

Grimsby

Director: Louis Leterrier (2016)

Super spy James Bond meets TV’s Shameless in this offensively funny action comedy.

Borat star Sacha Baron Cohen stars as super chav turned secret agent Nobby Grimsby.

As producer, writer and lead actor he takes comic pot shots which rake across satire, slapstick, sex and stupidity. The successful ones strike their target with explosive effect.

A cast iron structure has the weaker first half ticking along with underclass chaos and well choreographed action scenes, stealthily setting the audience up for the outrageously gross second half.

Though the script seems to want to mock and defend chav culture, it isn’t wildly successful doing either.

With his Liam Gallagher attitude, Frank Gallagher dress sense, Britpop tunes and wandering northern accent, Nobby seems based on the wrong side of the Pennines.

The town of Grimsby is never the target, the film could have been called Oldham, Bolton or Rochdale for all it matters to the plot.

Football fan and prodigious procreator, Nobby is reunited with his long lost brother Sebastian, a smooth British spy.

He’s played by  a commendably game for a laugh Mark Strong, the pair making themselves the butt of all the best jokes.

After a thwarted assassination during a symposium held by Penelope Cruz’s charity boss, the footie mad brothers Grimsby are hunted around the globe.

They must clear their name, prevent a genocide and try to attend the World Cup Final in Chile.

As Nobby’s wife Dawn, Australian actress Rebel Wilson is a slatternly housewife, Isla Fisher is in Miss Moneypenny mode and Ian McShane is a generally disbelieving M type.

Among the beer bellied drinkers at the local pub, Ricky Tomlinson, Johnny Vegas and Jon Thomson there’s professional northern support.

Swilling about in it’s own magnificent bad taste, Grimsby is the first great comedy of 2016.

 

 

John Wick

Director: Chad Stahelski (2015)

An assassin goes on an entertaining one-man rampage of revenge in this bloody, brutal and bullet-ridden action thriller.

Filled with blistering action, fast cars and a cute puppy, it’s a slick return to form for Keanu Reeves.

Grieving the death of his wife, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) disses a Russian gangster Iosef (Alfie Allen).

Not a bloke to be dissed by a fifty year-old in stubble, classic sports car and brown leather jacket, Iosef beats Wick up, trashes his apartment, kills his dog and steals his motor.

On any other fifty year old, Wick’s fashion choices could be the sign of a mid-life crisis and but this is Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan, Johnny Utah and Neo – so he can dress how he likes and he’ll always be forgiven.

In flashback we see poor Bridget Moynahan as Wick’s late wife Helen. Despite being seven years younger than her screen husband, Reeves makes her look like a toyboy-chasing cougar. The illness that killed her could have been old-age.

Unfortunately for Iosef, Wick is a retired hitman who used to work for his dad, a beard-stroking villain called Viggo (Michael Nyqvist).

Wick has a killer rep, he once killed three men in a bar with a pencil and is famed for his focus, commitment and sheer will. Nyqvist delivers the word pencil with articulate relish.

To protect his spoiled son Viggo reluctantly puts a $2million dollar bounty on Wicks’ head. Meanwhile Wick is breaking out his arsenal of weapons and is in a bad mood. The muted blues and greys of his house are a stylish representation of his emotional state.

The film plays to Reeve’s strengths by giving him lots of screen-time, great suits to wear, fast cars to drive – and minimal dialogue. Plus he’s at the centre of plenty of crisply choreographed carnage set to a grinding rock soundtrack.

What’s best about John Wick is the script’s nicely created heightened sense of reality, it exists in a parallel universe of coded conversations, rigid rules of engagement, financial penalties and it’s own currency of gold coins the size of doubloons. We only ever see one cop and he apologises for doing his job.

Adrianne Palicki and Willem Dafoe appear as as fellow hitmen Ms. Perkins and Marcus. Her Mrs Peel leather and eyeliner combo adds to the timeless quality of this alternate reality.

Ian McShane saunters through as Winston, a sleazily ambiguous owner of the Hotel Continental where a lot of the action takes place, John Leguizamo has a small role as Aurelio, a mobbed-up garage owner.

The moments of humour are underplayed for the greatest effect. Reeves delivers laconic asides with confidence and there’s a variation on the classic ‘pause in the fight and listen to elevator music’ gag.

Editor Elísabet Ronaldsdottir cuts the action with as many long edits as possible, giving them tremendous dynamism. Reeves may well have used a stuntman but you’d be hard pushed to say where during the hand to hand fighting.

Cinematographer Jonathan Sela captures the ultra-violence in deep wells of light and adds increasing levels of colour as the story progresses – but sadly there’s a lack of poetry in the glossy aesthetic and too little re-invention of action tropes.

We don’t need the traditional sweeping helicopter shots of the city and we’ve seen too many times the rain-soaked night-time fight on the docks. Plus this showdown would be stronger if we considered the two men to be equals – as in Michael Mann’s Heat – rather than a super-assassin putting the hurt on his elderly former boss.

However it’s great to see the likeable Reeves in a well-executed action thriller – he even gets to walk towards the camera with the room on fire behind him in classic action hero style.