John Wick 1 & 2
John Wick (October 22/14)
John Wick casts Keanu Reeves as the title character, a feared ex-assassin who's forced to resume his old ways after a callous gangster (Alfie Allen's Iosef) steals his car and kills his dog. Filmmakers David Leitch and Chad Stahelski have infused the early part of John Wick with an appealingly low-key vibe, as the movie is, at the outset, concerned primarily with Reeves' character's subdued efforts at moving on with his life in the aftermath of a tragic loss. It's an unexpectedly engaging stretch that's heightened by both Reeves' typically appealing work and the ongoing mystery behind John Wick's past, with the movie, perhaps inevitably, switching gears dramatically once the protagonist's quiet life is shattered by the aforementioned gangster. (This is accomplished in part with an annoying, needless act of violence against an animal.) And while the movie's initial spate of action sequences are admittedly quite exciting, John Wick suffers from a midsection that grows more and more repetitive as time progresses - as Leitch and Stahelski flood the proceedings with a series of dimly-lit, Terminator-like bursts of violence that are distressingly similar in their execution. (A pattern emerges: Wick confronts a multitude of armed goons, shoots most of them in the face, and subsequently progresses to the next location.) The mindless atmosphere, which is often akin to a first-person shooter, is compounded by Reeves' increasingly robotic demeanor (ie once he embarks on his campaign of revenge, Wick becomes an unstoppable, emotionless killing machine) - which, in turn, makes it awfully difficult to work up a rooting interest in the character's efforts. By the time the seemingly endless climax rolls around, John Wick has confirmed its place as a generic actioner that earns its R rating, certainly, but rarely manages to wholeheartedly elicit the viewer's complete interest.
John Wick: Chapter Two
A vast improvement over 2014's John Wick, John Wick: Chapter Two follows Keanu Reeves' unstoppable title character as he's drawn back into the criminal underworld by a shady figure (Riccardo Scamarcio's Santino D'Antonio) calling in a debt - with the film, naturally, detailing the violent carnage that ensues after Wick embarks on a quest of revenge. It's interesting to note that John Wick: Chapter Two, though a full 20 minutes longer than its predecessor, boasts a much more streamlined feel than the original movie, with the film, directed by Chad Stahelski, boasting an opening half hour that effectively sets up the scenario designed to draw out the central character - with the better-than-expected atmosphere heightened by a strong first action sequence and a typically engaging Reeves performance. And although the film's momentum takes a hit with its first proper shootout - Stahelski bathes this segment in dim lighting and less-than-coherent handheld camerawork - John Wick: Chapter Two eventually charges into an unexpectedly engrossing midsection that's rife with fairly captivating set-pieces and interludes. (There is, for example, a blistering and exciting montage that sees Wick taking on multiple assassins.) The movie subsequently progresses through a series of above-average sequences until reaching its impressively mesmerizing climax (which transpires within a mirror-heavy art installation), with the end result an ideal sequel that jettisons what didn't work in the original and ultimately stands as a seriously compelling contemporary actioner.