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

Batman Vs Superman

Director: Zack Snyder (2016)

Long, loud and laden with apocalyptic doom, this superhero scrap sees the two big beasts of DC comics collide for the first time on the silver screen.

Though the story is a timely nod to the galvanising effect a symbolic sacrifice can have on the behaviour of humanity, this is a suitably dour sequel to Snyder’s equally ponderous Man of Steel (2013).

More concerned with exploring humanity’s relationship with god than having fun fighting crime, it’s full of visions of hell, ghostly conversations and lashings of occasionally shoddy CGI mayhem.

Rare moments of weak humour seem included by studio diktat and every utterance is underlined by Hans Zimmer’s typically thunderous score.

Added to the huge amount of explosions and gunfire, it is for many stretches a numbing rather than uplifting or exciting experience.

At the beginning for those who may have forgotten already, there is a mercifully quick revision of Batman’s origin story. Then we plough right into the end of Man Of Steel where Superman’s titanic battle with General Zod is witnessed by an aghast Bruce Wayne.

Bulked up Brit Henry Cavill returns as Superman and a beefy Ben Affleck stars for the first time as Batman. Both are well cast though I suspect Cavill is operating at the top of his game while Affleck is operating well within his.

Affleck has himself appeared in the Superman costume in the role of ill-fated TV star George Reeves in the excellent Hollywoodland (2006). He was also Marvel comics Daredevil (2003) in a version every bit as poor as the Netflix TV series is excellent.

The super serious Man of Steel and The Caped Crusader are pitched against each other through the nefarious plans of Lex Luthor.

Jesse Eisenberg twitches and simpers as the skinny evil scientist. He sports a suit and trainers combo topped off with straggly shoulder length hair.

Contributing little, dressed to the nines and wandering around backstage like a lost contender for hottest businesswoman of the year, Gal Gadot is eventually unveiled as Wonder Woman to the accompaniment of a personal guitar riff. I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to be laughing, but it’s the only time I did.

Amy Adams is repeatedly rescued as Superman’s squeeze Lois Lane and Diane Lane returns as Martha Kent, Superman’s adoptive human mother.

 Sharing scant screen time with his employer, Jeremy Irons makes little impression as Alfred, butler and mechanic to Batman’s alter ego, the billionaire Bruce Wayne.

There is  a strong sense of design with chains and fire being recurring motifs, suitable for a film which mines the god-confronting myth of Prometheus for inspiration. The Bat-suit is nicely scarred and demonic and Wayne manor has a full complement of bat gadgets, bat memorabilia and of course a Batmobile.

Director Zac Snyder is also responsible for the ponderous and slavish adaption of the superhero satire Watchmen (2009).

Based on Alan Moore’s seminal work, it was one of two groundbreaking graphic novels of the ’80’s which contributed to making comic books acceptable cultural fodder for adults.

The other was Frank Miller’s Bat-tale The Dark Knight Returns, and Snyder lifts some ideas, images and dialogue directly from the page.

Those graphic novels use the presence of super powerful godlike beings on Earth to explore the media manipulation of disaster for political and military gain. This forms a central thrust to Batman Vs Superman.

Snyder has an impressive and sure footed visual sense but it’s superseded by self important one note storytelling. With even the smallest scene over wrought to the nth degree, emotional power seeps away from those scenes from where it’s most needed.

Outflanked by the billion dollar success of the Marvel Connected Universe featuring Captain America, Iron Man etc, Warner Bros. have taken what was conceived as a straight up Man of Steel (2013) sequel and quickly expanded it to include first Batman and then Wonder Woman.

The Dawn of Justice tagline refers to the forthcoming follow up The Justice League movie, the first part of which is slated for 2017. Characters are hinted at here and intended as competition to Marvel’s Avengers ensemble and Fox studio’s X-Men franchise.

Given the almost pointless inclusion of Wonder Woman here, there is little to whet the appetite for what will be an even more crowded super powered excursion.