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Courtesy of Lionsgate

March 3, 2017

All You Need is Kill

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In 2014, directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch unleashed a brand new assassin into the world of cinema with John Wick, a subversive, stylish and thoroughly entertaining film with beautifully choreographed, yet fiercely brutal action sequences. Unsurprisingly, expectations were high for the sequel. In Chapter 2, director Chad Stahelski returns to deliver more of the same sleek and vicious fighting sequences while expanding upon the world that he built in the first film, where New York City was reimagined as a metropolis infested with camouflaged killers who could assassinate victims at a moment’s notice. From performances to cinematography to soundtrack to the films many, many, fight scenes, John Wick Chapter 2 is a fast-paced and high octane adventure. Though repetitive in some areas, Chapter 2 is a rare sequel that retains elements that made the first film such a hit, while also going deeper into the sinews of its own cinematic world.

Chapter 2 takes place four days from where the first film left off, with John fighting through another wave of henchmen in order to retrieve his 1969 Boss 429 Mustang, which was stolen by Russian mobsters. After he salvages his car, he buries his weapons and attempts to resume civilian life before he is visited by Italian crime lord and fellow assassin, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio). He asks John to carry out one last “impossible” assassination. John reluctantly complies (reluctantly, as in he agrees only after Santino blows up his house with a grenade launcher). Soon after, though, in order to tie up loose ends, Santino calls a bounty on John’s head. The rest of the film sees John fight through waves of experienced killers and fighters, as he goes on a bloody killing spree to extract his revenge upon Santino.

The first film focused mainly on the secret society in New York City, but Stahelski expertly expanded upon the reach of the assassination guild, showing just how far this organization spreads. For example, the Continental Hotel served as a safe haven for all assassins to seek refuge; no violence could be committed inside the hotel, with the consequence being excommunication. The role of the Continental is expanded upon in the sequel; in addition to being a safe haven, the hotel also serves as a place where assassins can pick up weapons and gear before committing their killings. Additionally, the film makes excellent use of its scenic locations. Rome is used particularly well. The bustling nightlife of the city, dizzying and delirious, is contrasted with the darker and damp corridors of the Catacombs, where John uses a variety of guns to defend himself against hordes of henchmen.

A constant feature is the violence. The fight scenes are ballet-esque, and John’s signature move is a headshot. Whenever he has a pistol in hand, the score and camera angles reveal the efficiency of his kills.  The score’s orchestral string compositions adds a layer of regality, which contrasts well with the brutality shown on screen. Once the score switches to a combination of synth and bass-heavy EDM, the fighting also takes a turn, showing that John is not above getting his hands dirty. He uses everything: knives, fists, car doors, even pencils (he definitely one-ups the Joker from The Dark Knight in terms of the most cringe-worthy kill) to defeat his enemies. In every setting that he finds himself in, John is an unstoppable killing machine and audiences see why he is feared in the criminal underworld. Though the action is amplified, it also does feel repetitive. Though for the first two scenes in Rome, where John mows down his assailants is entertaining, by the third act it becomes more of an annoyance. John can only do so much arm-twisting and headshots before the fighting seems uninspired.

Courtesy of Lionsgate

Courtesy of Lionsgate

Whenever he has a pistol in hand, the score and camera angles reveal the efficiency of his kills

As for the performances, Keanu Reeves will forever be remembered for his role as John Wick. Reeves rasps through his lines with brevity and force with his scowling facial expressions  matching enraged delivery. Riccardo Scamarcio’s performance as Santino is cliché, but is done with both menace and charisma. His character’s more flamboyant and sarcastic asides serve as a foil to John Wick’s straightforward and laconic demeanor. Laurence Fishburne is criminally underused, though his presence and reunion with Keanu Reeves , was a main selling point. He does get a few jests with John, but his role is minimal, serving more as an expositional character. The assassin Cassian (played by rapper Common) provides a good physical rival for Wick. While many of the henchmen in the film in fight sequences transform midway into imbeciles with poor aim (see: stormtroopers) Common’s Cassian is a sith lord by comparison. His grapples and banter with John are a highlight of the film. Lastly, the performance that I found myself enjoying the most was Ruby Rose’s mute and snide Ares (a bodyguard to Santino). Ares’s flashy uses of sign language and permanent smirk added an aura of enigma and ambiguity to her character, but she also held her own in the film’s fight sequences.

The film can be compared to the manga All You Need Is Kill, written by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. In the novel, protagonist Keiji is thrust into a war against aliens, and after countless battles becomes a ruthless killing machine, enslaved by a cycle of violence. Much of John Wick Chapter 2 appears the same way. The action sequences are stunning, and this franchise alone proves that Keanu can be remembered alongside action star greats, yet it is John’s knack for violence that is so appealing to audiences.That’s what helps the film make such a killing (pun intended) at the box office. Once John retired from the guild, all he wanted was to live a peaceful life with his wife. But, he could find no solace. He was continually brought back into the murderous lifestyle. Thus, while audiences can root for John because they want him to achieve his peace, it’s ultimately John’s knack for killing that makes viewers enjoy the film in the first place. We lament for John because it seems that no matter what he tries, the assassin guild is what keeps him captive, but we don’t realize that it is our appetite for violence that deprives John of his peace. In the end, it is an interesting realization that the character of John Wick is not a slave to the confines of the cinematic world, but rather the desires of the audience. Only when the audience is willing to grant John peace, can John finally leave his painful past behind him and start anew.

Zachary Lee is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at zjl4@cornell.edu

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