John Wick 2 and the Art of World Building

By Scott Whitney

Keanu knows Gun-Fu

Before we talk about Chad Stahlelski, perhaps one of the most interesting directors of recent years, we need to mention that this is the first time since The Matrix that we’ve seen Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne together. What else needs can you say? This is the second John Wick Stahlelski has directed, the first being in 2014 and whether you saw it or not this one will give you exactly what you paid for: guns, guns going off, and more guns, as well as Keanu Reeves’ ability to form meaningful relationships with just about everyone using the fewest words possible. If you saw the trailers, you saw the movie. Unlike most movies that do this, John Wick 2 movie gave you more of the same with a huge emphasis on the word more. And let’s be honest more is all you wanted from the movie in the first place.

None of this is surprising, though what is surprising is that JW2 does represent and that is how to make a movie. In fact, it might be the Platonic form of a movie it’s so perfect. The confrontations begin immediately. There is no waiting with JW2, the movie starts with a voice over, while we get to watch with glee a car vs motorcycle chase that ends with John swiftly dispatching an entire drug trafficking ring. After that, John asks for peace and gets one day of it. But then, as surely as the icecaps are melting, John is swiftly pulled into a vortex of action again.

From the Matrix to the Vortex
This one-day of peace allows us a small moment where we can identify with this otherwise ephemeral killing machine. The movie does two things correctly right off the bat: it throws you right into the action and builds a world that you want to be a part of. No one knows what assassin coins are actually worth, but you see them in use as if they were common. You don’t need an explanation; you just figure it out.

World building is something most movies, especially those that border on the Sci-Fi edge, have trouble with, but JW2 does it right, which is not all at. Because of this the world of JW2 is vibrant and you find yourself wanting to live within it out of curiosity. The movie does hint that just about everyone in New York is a secret assassin or connected to organized crime, but then maybe it’s true. Or perhaps New York is being used as a stand in for Las Vegas. Whatever the case, you’ll find yourself popping bottles at home to loud music and wishing you where Wick, imaging that everyone in your apartment is a secret assassin out for blood.

And Laurence Fishburne: how great is that!
If you’re a fan of the ridiculous fight scenes of the Matrix movies, then get ready for some Keanu Reeves-Laurence Fishburne specials. JW2 has perfected the fine art of fighting that’s outlandish and yet strangely realistic. I’m tired of movies like Triple X and the Fast(s) and the Furious(es) where the fighting and characters are so overblown that they seem to exist solely in a world of cliché. Not JW2. Perhaps it’s the fact that Wick says so little that we cling to every word he says. We believe he can survive after being shot in the gut and fight of a city’s worth of assassins. So I’ll end with this little tautology: we believe in him because he’s John Wick and he’s John Wick because we believe in him.

©Scott Whitney and the CCA Arts Review

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