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Face-Off: John Wick vs. John Wick: Chapter 2

Great to see you again, thrill seekers young and old! Last week we covered some hefty ground by facing off the first two Phases of the MCU, which was done to mark the arrival of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and the fact we were about one year away from AVENGERS 4. Now, we're almost exactly one year out from another anticipated sequel, JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3, which began shooting only a few weeks ago. The first set pic dropped recently, and it will make any fan want to go back and rewatch the first two films. That's what we did here, and now it's time to see which movie does stunning violence the best

JOHN WICK was a helluva surprise, bringing Keanu Reeves back into the spotlight with a critically acclaimed action film that did better than expected at the box office. This paved the way for a sequel, JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2, which built on the world even further, earning better reviews and double the box office in the process.

Both movies are tremendous action films with Reeves creating one of his best characters, but there can only be one, and it's time for the neon-lit battle to begin!

THE ENSEMBLE
Keanu Reeves as John Wick
Michael Nyqvist as Viggo Tarasov
Adrianne Palicki as Ms. Perkins
Wilem Dafoe as Marcus
Ian McShane as Winston
John Leguizamo as Aurelio
Alfie Allen as Iosef Tarasov
Lance Reddick as Charon
Dean Winters as Avi
Keanu Reeves as John Wick
Ian McShane as Winston
Riccardo Scamarcio as Santino D'Antonio
Ruby Rose as Ares
Common as Cassian
Claudia Gerini as Gianna D'Antonio
John Leguizamo as Aurelio
Laurence Fishburne as Bowery King
Lance Reddick as Charon
with Peter Stormare as Abram
and Peter Serafinowicz as Sommelier
DIRECTION
Though it lists Chad Stahelski as the only credited director, both he and David Leitchdirected the film. Due to Director's Guild stipulations, only Stahelski could be credited, while Leitch was listed as a producer. The two have a tremendous resume in the world of movie stuntwork, working on a wide range of film, including the MATRIX movies with Reeves. Their deep, deep knowledge of stuntwork certainly benefits the movie, as the action is, for lack of a better word, amazeballs. The precision and unrelenting force of the action is something to marvel at, with the duo using their experience to do something a bit different with the genre and give it a worthy, modern entry. This is all done against a neo-noir canvas, which gives the violence a decadent visual style. As well, the duo also does a fantastic job at bringing out the movie's humanity, remembering that Wick is vulnerable human being.
With CHAPTER 2 Stahelski flew solo, and not to say the movie was better off, but I do think it allowed for him to bring out more of his own style. The visual language Stahelski orchestrates is far more potent this time around, which helps solidify the WICK series as its own unique beast. That, and the director seems way more confident in directing action this time around (not that he wasn't already), and clearly picked up some tricks from the first flick. The action is far more elaborate and intense, and he lingers longer during many shots and lets the chaos play out around Reeves. The actor probably worked his ass off on this choreography, and the director definitely lets him shine while remembering to let the scenery do the same. As the chaos mounted I also never lost sight of the character either, and Wick is still shown as a vulnerable man who can be beaten and has a reason for getting back in the game...even if that reason is not as compelling as it is in the first movie.
STORY/SCRIPT

A retired assassin, John Wick, has spent the last few years in blissful retirement with his wife Helen. After Helen passes away John receives a puppy she gave him as one last gift. Now he can grieve with a companion. Unfortunately, several goons break into Wick's house to steal his car, killing the puppy in the process. Now the fuse has been lit, and Wick is out for the blood of those who took his chance at peace away from him. Baba Yaga is loose, and nothing will stop him.

Writer Derek Kolstad crafted an excellent script here, taking the movie's first moments and very quietly and sensitively exploring the man himself. Here is a man in mourning, and then a little, fluffy ray of light shines in. We sympathize with him in a way we don't often do for characters in action movies. This makes it all the more enthralling a story when he goes off on his revenge mission. We're right there alongside him, cheering him on as he delivers headshot after headshot. Yes, it's a revenge story, but at the core of it is a character whose journey we actually care to go on. The fact the movie has an original, complex world of assassins sprinkled in is simply icing on the cake.

John Wick is still on his hunt for revenge, concluding it by getting back the car that was stolen from him, as well as a piece of his wife that was left in the glovebox. Just as he's beginning to settle back into the world of retirement his past comes knocking and he is forced to do a favor for an old colleague or risk death. In order to have any chance at peace he has to do one last mission, taking him deep back into the world he left behind. To his surprise, Wick is double-crossed and must fight his way out of this mess, even if it means going deeper into the belly of the beast. Don't worry, the dog is safe this time.

The JOHN WICK movies are about a man who is trying to find peace. Everything he does is all so that he can enjoy the rest of his life without worry of his past coming back to haunt him. In that regard, I like the story of the first movie better. What brings him back into the game is a more personal quest and one that puts a bit of a spin on the revenge-out-of-love angle. In CHAPTER 2 we explore much more of the assassin world, but the double-cross-by-the-guy-you're-working-for makes for a less interesting angle for the character to work through. It makes for a helluva roller coaster of a movie, but on a storytelling front, it's not as enriching as the first film.

WICK/REEVES
John Wick is a seasoned killer and one who built up a reputation as the best in the biz. But the movie and even the sequel ponder if a man with such a past can really be redeemed. Well, he can certainly try and find closure, and the first movie shows just how far he'll go to find that peace of mind. That involves killing everyone in his way, but hey, all in the name of love. In fact, it is a love story that fuels Wick, and it humanizes him in an instant way that makes you see him not as a ruthless killer, but a man with a broken heart. Reeves plays this well, making Wick his own with a cool, serious demeanor with an effective bluntness. He bottles a lot of rages, and takes it out on poor thugs.
Wick is still the man he was in the first one, and someone who is simply trying to find that last shred of calm and peace. But, CHAPTER 2 aims to prove you're never really out for good, and sometimes you can't outrun your past. I don't find the motivation for the character as relatable or surprising as the first movie, with it feeling more like a typical thriller in terms of character beats. But, Reeves is still great in the role, giving us more of what we love and feeling a bit more challenged now that he has worthy foes to face.
NOTABLE BITS & LINES

Beginning at the End

Wick's Grief

An Adorable Gift

Drive Angry

The Russians Have Made a Bad Mistake

No! Puppy!

Viggo: "I heard you struck my son."

Aurelio: "Yes, sir, I did."

Viggo: "And may I ask why?"

Aurelio: "Yeah, well, because he stole John Wick's car, sir, and, uh, killed his dog."

Viggo: [pause] "Oh."

Digging Up the Past

Viggo: "It's not what you did, son, that angers me so. It's who you did it to."

Iosef: "Who? That fucking nobody?"

Viggo: "That "fuckin' nobody"... is John Wick."

Shoot Out at the Home

Jimmy: "You, uh, workin' again?"

John: "No, I was just sortin' some stuff out."

Clean Up Crew

The Continental

Winston: "Have you thought this through? I mean, chewed down to the bone? You got out once. You dip so much as a pinky back into this pond... you may well find something reaches out... and drags you back into its depths."

Brawl in the Club

An Uninvited Guest

Church Gun Fight

Hostage

John: "When Helen died, I lost everything. Until that dog arrived on my doorstep... A final gift from my wife... In that moment, I received some semblance of hope... an opportunity to grieve unalone... And your son... took that from me. Stole that from me... *Killed that from me*! People keep asking if I'm back and I haven't really had an answer. But now, yeah, I'm thinkin' I'm back. So you can either hand over your son or you can die screaming alongside him!"

Wick Gets His Revenge

Poor Wilem Dafoe

Ms. Perkins Down

Winston: Ms. Perkins. Your membership to The Continental has been, by thine own hand, revoked."

Car Chase on the Docks

Final Fight...in the Rain!

A New Buddy

Opening Car Chase

John Wick Returns

Taking on the Warehouse Thugs

Home Again

Calling in the Marker

Up in Smoke

When in Rome

Julius: "Then humor me with,uh... but one question. Sei qui per il Santo Padre?" [translation: Are you here for the Pope?]

John: "No."

Julius: "All right then."

Back in the Game/Suiting Up

Sommelier: "Excellent. Mr. Wick? Do enjoy your party."

Killing Gianni

Stand Off

Concert Mayhem

Catacomb Chaos

Wick vs. Cassian

A Moment of Peace

Winston: "You stabbed the devil in the back and forced him back into the life that he had just left. You incinerated the priest's temple. Burned it to the ground. Now he's free of the marker, what do you think he'll do? He had a glimpse of the other side and he embraced it. But you, Signor D'Antonio... took it away from him."

Fighting All the Way Home

Killing Two Men with a Pencil

Cassian and Wick's Travelling Gun and Kife Fight

John: "The knife is in your aorta. You pull it out, you will bleed and you will die. Consider this a professional courtesy."

The Bowery King

Bowery King: "You're not very good at retiring."

John: "I'm working on it."

John: "So I guess you have a choice. You want a war? Or do you wanna just give me a gun?"

Bowery King: "Somebody, please! Get this man a gun!"

Museum Shoot Out

Hall of Mirrors

Wick vs. Ares

Killing on Continental Ground

Ex-Communicado

John: "Winston... tell them... Tell them all... Whoever comes, whoever it is... I'll kill them. I'll kill them all."

Winston: "'Course you will."

One Hour

GLORIOUS ACTION
Yes, at the heart of WICK is an accessible, motivated character whose journey we can follow with an emotional attachment. What makes the movie an action classic, however, is the stylistic, brutal violence that is often drenched in a neon glow. The movie takes the concept of hyper-violence and turns it into an elegant ballet of blood and bullets. Everything we've seen in similar movies is seemingly reinvented here. Gunfights are given more precision and ferocity, while hand-to-hand combat is gripping and expertly choreographed to work in rolls, throws, kicks, grapples, and a few good ole' fashioned punches. Reeves immerses himself into the action with Tom Cruise-level commitment, which sells the proceedings even more convincingly.
Okay, now take everything WICK did and crank it up to about 13. The same brutal style from the first movie is here, but it is all given way more scope and inventiveness. The movie needed to feel bigger, not just in the story, but in action. Set pieces are on a larger scale, and each action scene is more intricate than the ones in the first film, with Stahelski letting more time pass between shots. A perfect example of this is the big opening action sequence, which sees Wick regaining his beloved car, only to bash it to pieces when trying to escape. Wick slams his car into other cars (and other people), as it deteriorates bit by bit, only to slunk out of the rubble and take on a series of thugs. Stahelski gives the carnage room to breathe and is unafraid to do longer takes. This style is consistent throughout the movie, getting more ridiculous and mind-blowing as it goes on.
ATMOSPHERE
It takes a little bit to get into it, but JOHN WICK sports a vibrant, neo-noir aesthetic that gives the revenge-thriller actionier a much-needed makeover. This is best exemplified by the action scenes in the nightclub, like when Wick is in the sauna area, moving up the to the more chaotic dance floor. We should be grateful for this visual language because if not for this stylistic choice the movie may not have been as cool, it certainly would have lacked for identity.
The movie has the same visual style as the first, but the sequel enriches it with some stellar production design and gorgeous landscapes. It's as if someone like Tom Ford came in and consulted on the artistic elements and then let Reeves shoot it up. There are countless, awe-inspiring set pieces, whether they be in nightclubs, museums, subway stations, or simply the streets of Rome. All of it has that neon, slick style that can be seen in the first movie too, but it's much more refined here and given greater breadth and flair.
MAIN BADDIE
Coming right out of the gate with it, Michael Nyqvist is fucking awesome in this movie. He expertly conveys such a wide variety of emotions that give his character a rich personality, like being genuinely terrified when he hears the name "John Wick". But he's also totally mad and even a bit silly, like when he gives Dean Winters' character a gun, only to playfully pull it away from him. This could've been your typical, bland Russian baddie, but Nyqvist makes him so much more entertaining.
Riccardo Scamarcio is a suitably elegant and fashionable villain for JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2, and poses a more intellectual threat to Wick. This is all well and good, and Scarmarcio does a fine job, but he can't help but be outshined by Nyqvist. Same goes for all the other characters Wick fights in this movie, like the ones played by Ruby Rose and Common.
AWARDS, PRAISE & MONEY
Golden Schmoes:
    Won:
    Biggest Surprise of the Year
    Nominated :
    Most Underrated Movie of the Year
    Coolest Character of the Year: John Wick
    **5 Wins & 8 Nominations (per IMDB)**
Praise Money:
    $43 million domestic ($88 million global)
Golden Schmoes:
    Won:
    Coolest Character of the Year: John Wick
    ** 4 Wins & 5 Nominations (per IMDB)**
Praise Money:
    $92 million domestic ($171 million global)
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2
When I rewatch CHAPTER 2 I often find myself comparing what it did after the first movie to what THE RAID 2, another brilliant action sequel, did after its first movie: It took the gory, stylized, bare-knuckle violence of the previous movie and turned into an art form. On a technical level, CHAPTER 2 is superior to the first in almost every way, looking like if a high-end fashion show resulted in a gunfight. This is all done without sacrificing the character at the core of the story, and Wick's arc moves in a logical direction, even if the story is more focused on world-building than his personal journey. JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 is a very rare sequel in the bloody action flick genre to be better than the original, which is even more impressive considering how awesome and surprising the first one was. It took everything special about its predecessor and raised the quality to a level of pure, blood-splattered art.

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