The release of John Wick: Chapter 2 has made it even more clear that we’ve been seriously lacking in any decent action movies for a quite a long time. The team behind John Wick, in both instalments in the franchise, has shown us their talent for crafting beautifully choreographed, expertly filmed, and relentlessly intense action sequences.
*Some minor spoilers lay ahead.*
The first John Wick, released back in 2014 with a modest budget, was a surprise hit with audiences and critics alike. The movie brought Keanu Reeves back to his action-star roots and showcased months worth of hard training for the role. Most of what made the first movie so fresh and memorable was the action. Keanu Reeves as John Wick stylishly battled his way through waves of enemies in smooth martial-arts based gun combat. Deemed “gun-fu” by director Chad Stahelski because of the interplay of hand-to-hand and gun-based fighting techniques, this new type of movie combat was brought to life through flowing choreography and steady filming techniques. All of this is back in a big way in John Wick: Chapter 2. In the second instalment, the action has been kicked up a notch (or several) and we are shown once again that John Wick is the greatest action star of recent cinema.
There’s always a risk with sequels. They have to keep what made the original movie great while at the same time bringing something new and fresh to the table. Stray too far in either direction and audiences will be unsatisfied. I think John Wick 2 has found a perfect balance. In the new movie we get more of an exploration of the vast criminal assassin underworld that was featured in the first movie while also heightening the action and having Wick face off against new and more dangerous enemies. The flowing choreography of the first movie is back and “gun-fu” is more exciting than ever.
Part of what makes the action sequences in both John Wick movies so great is the way they’re filmed. So many action movies these days rely so heavily on shaky cam and quick cuts that audiences are left disoriented and uninvested in the outcome of the action (the Taken trilogy, for example, uses these techniques to horrible effect during all of its action sequences). In both John Wick movies the camera is kept relatively stable and longer cuts are used to show that it’s actually Keanu Reeves doing most of the fighting and the driving, adding an element of believability while increasing tension and the level of emotional investment from the audience.
The other reason why John Wick as a franchise stands above pretty much every other action movie out there right now is the sheer amount of training that the actors put into their roles.There have been several videos of Keanu Reeves released, for example, that highlight the substantial time he spent training for the driving, shooting, and fighting scenes in John Wick 2. For several months, Reeves reportedly trained for eight hours a day, five days a week. Part of his training included a fast-paced shooting technique known as “three gun training,” which involves moving through a shooting course of stationary targets, quickly switching between a pistol, a shotgun, and an assault rifle to take them down.
The John Wick movies also benefit from having a director that is a former stuntman. Chad Stahelski, co-director for John Wick and solo director for John Wick: Chapter 2, has a very lengthy resume as a stuntman/ stunt coordinator spanning several decades and including films such Point Break, The Matrix trilogy, V for Vendetta, 300, Iron Man 2, The Expendables, and many more. John Wick in 2014 marked Stahelski’s directorial debut. Without Stahelski’s many years as a stuntman/ stunt coordinator and experience with how to make action look good on screen, John Wick wouldn’t have turned out as good as it did.
All of these elements come together to form the best action franchise we’ve had in years. The fast-paced and fluid fight choreography combined with skillful cinematography, acting, and direction make John Wick: Chapter 2 a must-see this year. With the success that both movies have generated both critically and at the box office, I’m sure we’ll be treated to a chapter 3 in the near future.