Keanu Kraze: John Wick Chapter 2

Yeah, I’m thinking he’s back.

After racking up a phenomenal body count in 2014’s original film, Keanu Reeves is back in action as John Wick, the tormented yet unstoppable hitman. The movie was one of the best American action films of the past decade, and as soon as a sequel was announced I couldn’t have been more excited.

That sequel is finally here and it was worth the wait. In addition to being every bit as good as its predecessor, I would venture to say that John Wick Chapter 2 is one of the best action movies ever made, an instant classic that puts most modern action movies to shame.

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What makes it so great? Let’s start with the main actor: Keanu Reeves. The man is an absolute beast. Reeves trained extensively to play John Wick, in the special features of the first movie, the producers and trainers said that Keanu trained eight hours a day, five days a week, in weapons, martial arts, and stunt driving, for months. The dude is committed. When you see John Wick in action, you’re seeing the results of Keanu’s dedication, and it looks fantastic.

Much like its predecessor, John Wick Chapter 2 is a testament to good old-fashioned filmmaking ingenuity. Minimal CGI, lots of close-quarters combat, top-notch fight choreography, and daredevil stunt work, all filmed in-camera, with fluid camera movement and smooth editing, to ensure that the viewer is able to follow the fast-paced action. The first movie was directed by veteran stuntmen Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, and Stahelski goes solo for the sequel. He absolutely nails it, in many ways outdoing the excellent work he and Leitch did in the original.

And don’t worry, dog-lovers: despite the tragic fate of the adorable puppy from the first movie, no cute doggies are harmed in the sequel. Yes, John has the same dog he got at the conclusion of the first movie, but by the end of the second movie the sweet pooch is alive and well, and quite possibly the only friend John has in the world. The movie’s ending sets the stage for an epic continuation of the series, and Stahelski has stated that a third film is in the works. I can’t wait.

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But if his dog is alive and well, then what brings John back into the fold this time? It turns out that John owes a blood debt to a former associate, a slick fellow by the name of Santino D’Antonio. Santino gives John a seemingly impossible task, after which he will consider the debt paid. John is reluctant to comply with Santino’s request, but after some persuasion (Santino blows up his house), he accepts. Fulfilling Santino’s mission will have far-reaching consequences, something John is fully aware of. But he goes through with it, and when Santino inevitably stabs him in the back, every hitman in the country ends up gunning for him.

One of the most intriguing things about the story of the first movie was the glimpse into the assassin underworld which John was so desperate to escape from. There was the Continental Hotel, which catered to assassins, and the gold coins which served as currency. Chapter 2 shows us that this underworld is much more far-reaching than what we saw in the original film, and feels like a logical extension of the first film’s mythology.

John Wick 2 is also surprisingly funny. There’s a rich vein of twisted humor that runs throughout the film, and I loved it. The Continental Hotel has strict rules, foremost among them that no business will be conducted on company grounds. So when John and a henchman, locked in an epic battle that has already taken them down several seemingly endless flights of stairs, end up crashing through a window into the lobby of the hotel, they are scolded by the manager and told to go have a few drinks at the bar together to calm themselves down. The sommelier at the hotel specializes in high-end weaponry, and talks about guns in the way wine connoisseurs would talk about fine wine. And the movie’s biggest laugh comes when the manager of the Italian branch of the Continental (played by Franco Nero, who reminds me a lot of The Most Interesting Man in the World from those Dos Equis commercials) asks John if he’s there for the Pope.

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There’s also a badass and somewhat hilarious sequence where John fights countless assassins through the streets and subways of New York and it seems like the poor guy can’t go more than a few feet without somebody trying to whack him. He even gets to take out a couple of guys with a pencil. There’s a slyly funny bit during this sequence where John and an assassin exchange silenced gunfire while bystanders remain oblivious. John Wick is a human wrecking ball who kills his way through two movies, and if the ending of the second movie is any indication, John will have a lot more killing to do before his story is over.

But as unstoppable as John is, he’s not invulnerable. He gets shot, stabbed and hit by cars multiple times, and spends a substantial portion of both films limping and stumbling in pain. But the fact that he gets hurt only makes him even more badass, since he picks himself up and keeps on bringing the pain. The other extraordinary thing about these movies is that, as heightened as its world and its characters are, there’s nothing in either film that is completely impossible for an actual human being to accomplish.

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Another thing I love about both of these movies is the visuals. For the sequel, director Chad Stahelski has found all sorts of creative locations to stage epic gun battles. From a hazily lit tunnel in Rome to a subway in which the walls and ceilings are bright white (allowing for vivid red bursts of blood) and a stunning finale in an art exhibition full of mirrors and neon lights, the action scenes are some of the best ever put on screen. Both films are destined to become legendary for action fans.

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John Wick 2 is a beautiful, brutal movie, one which is not for the faint of heart. The violence is lightning-quick and relentless, leaving its protagonist and its audience no time to breathe. There are some truly brutal kills here (such as John’s aforementioned pencil trick) which are all filmed unflinchingly.

And throughout the mayhem, there is Keanu Fricking Reeves, who moves with such balletic grace that it gives the violent action a genuine sense of beauty. But aside from Reeves’ stunning physical performance, he’s playing a character with a surprising amount of depth. John Wick is a man without a place in the world. His wife offered him an escape from his violent life, and with her death, his life quickly spirals into chaos. At the end of the sequel, he is more alone than ever. Keanu doesn’t have a great deal of dialogue in either movie, but his physicality and the way he reacts to the world around him speak volumes about the kind of life he has lived.

I saw this movie in a theater that was at least three-quarters full, which just warmed my heart. It showed that not only did the first movie have a lot of fans, but that there is still an audience for hardcore R-rated action films. Movie studios seem to be realizing that people will still see R-rated action movies, if the success of Deadpool last year and the R rating of the upcoming third Wolverine movie are any indication. This makes me quite happy, since it shows that there is still a place in the world for the violent action movies I love.

I had a blast with John Wick 2. It was everything an action sequel should be. I really hope it doesn’t take three years for John Wick 3 to come out, because I don’t know if I can wait that long.

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Keanu Kraze: 47 Ronin

Say what you will about Keanu Reeves’ acting abilities, he’s made some genuinely good movies. John Wick, Speed, The Matrix, Point Break.

And then there’s 47 Ronin, a puzzling hodgepodge of a movie. The 2013 film cost a bundle to make, and FLOPPED hugely. It’s a classic example of a good concept getting shot in the foot due to extensive studio interference. It was such a box-office bomb that Wikipedia lists it as the second-most expensive box-office bomb EVER. And that’s adjusted for inflation, unadjusted, it’s number one.

Wow. A movie that bombed so hard must be absolute crap, right? Well…not exactly. The film is a mixed bag, but it’s nowhere near as bad as you might expect.

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The movie tells a heavily fictionalized version of the real forty-seven Ronin, which was an actual historical event. That the film’s version of this story is fictional is pretty obvious from the opening narration, which claims that ancient feudal Japan was “A group of magical islands home to witches and demons.” Um, okay.

Keanu plays Kai, a half-Japanese, half-English outcast, who is shunned by his fellow samurai due to his mixed ancestry. He was also raised in the woods by demons, who taught him to fight and gave him superpowers.

Tellingly, the character of Kai is not present at all in the actual story of the forty-seven Ronin. He was invented completely for the film, I guess because Universal studios wanted a recognizable Hollywood actor.

But Reeves’ character still feels shoehorned into the story, since it would have been entirely possible to tell it without him. 47 Ronin was supposed to come out in 2012 but was pushed back to 2013 to incorporate time for re-shoots, which were done because Universal wanted Reeves to have more of a presence in the movie. This included giving him more dialogue scenes and also added a love story involving his character. Sorry guys, but it didn’t work, since Keanu’s character still feels unnecessary.

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He’s more of a side character. The real driving force behind the story is Oishi, who is driven to avenge the death of his lord, who committed seppuku (ritual suicide) after being bewitched by the evil Lord Kira and his henchwoman, an evil sorceress.

Much like Reeves’ character, the movie as a whole is something of a half-breed (and also like Reeves’ character, it was largely shunned upon release). It can never decide if it wants to be a gritty historical swords-and-sandals epic (like Gladiator or Braveheart) or more of a fantasy romp (leaning more towards The Lord of the Rings).

This is again due to interference on the part of the studio. From what I’ve read, the film’s director, Carl Rinsch, wanted a more realistic, gritty approach to the film, while Universal wanted a fantasy epic. The finished movie ends up being some of both and a lot of neither. The rumor was that Rinsch was kicked out of the editing room during post-production, and therefore didn’t have much of a say on the film’s final cut.

It’s really too bad, since the actual story is great, but the film’s version of it is so watered-down it becomes hard to care about the outcome. The main problem from a story perspective is that of the titular 47 Ronin, only two of them have any personality or character development, like, at all. Those are Kai and Oishi, and of those two, only Oishi feels actually necessary to the plot.

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Fortunately, Oishi is played by Hiroyuki Sanada, a very talented actor (known to Western audiences for his role as a gangster in The Wolverine) who gives Oishi a real sense of humanity and determination. The rest of the movie doesn’t live up to his drive.

Also contributing to the weird feel of the movie is that fact that it’s in English. Yeah, I get it, Americans are lazy and don’t want to read subtitles, but in 47 Ronin what you get is a lot of very Japanese-looking people speaking very heavily-accented English, which brings to mind all of those badly-dubbed kung fu movies from the 70’s and 80’s. And it’s not that the film’s dubbing is bad per se (the words coming out of the characters’ mouths do at least match up with the movements of their lips) but it doesn’t sound right. You keep wondering why these people are speaking English, and as a result you’re distracted and not focusing on the actual movie.

And this brings us to the end of the movie. At the end, (spoilers obviously), all of the 47 Ronin (or at least the ones who weren’t bumped off earlier) are sentenced to commit seppuku by the shogun for having disobeyed his earlier order to not take revenge against Kira for the death of their master. So, yeah, the movie ends with the main characters committing suicide. That sucks. And what sucks even more is that only TWO of them have any personality, so you don’t give a crap about the other forty-five. It feels anticlimactic to say the least, and the lack of character development robs the movie’s ending of much of its impact.

But as sloppy as the story is, there are good things about the film. For one thing, it looks GREAT. The costume and set designs are top notch. Every character looks amazing and authentic, and the costumes in particular give the movie a vibrant color palette that makes it great to look at.

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The special effects are also quite good (the $175 million budget had to go somewhere) and the action scenes are well-shot and choreographed. There are some great sword fights and the final battle scene is viscerally satisfying. Keanu gets to fight a dragon, which looks cool even if it doesn’t make a great deal of sense.

And since we’re on the subject of stuff that looks cool, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the Lovecraftian Samurai. The Lovecraftian Samurai is a hulking brute of a henchman who looks really freaking cool. He’s sadly underused (big surprise) but he looks absolutely badass. He’s actually not a CGI character, he’s played by an absurdly tall English guy in a sweet costume. CGI may have been used to enhance the character but there is an actual guy in there. The character’s name is never given in the movie, he’s listed in the credits as Lovedraftian Samurai, although I really have no idea why, since as far as I know H.P. Lovecraft never wrote about the cosmic existential horror of seven-and-a-half-foot tall samurai warriors. I do love the phrase “Lovecraftian Samurai” though.

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47 Ronin is worth seeing for fans of quirky and bizarre cinema. Given all of the studio interference and the film’s jumbled tone, it’s not too surprising that it was such a flop. It is too bad that the story didn’t get better treatment though, since it’s a fantastic story and the fact that it’s based on actual historical events is pretty mind-blowing. Overall, 47 Ronin feels like a wasted opportunity with a few bright spots that ultimately aren’t enough to elevate the film above the level of a cinematic curiosity.

Comparative Exponential Religiosity/Keanu Kraze: John Constantine (Into the Light I Command Thee)

Lately, I’ve had John Constantine on the brain.

As far as I can tell, this came from a couple of different places. I read a lot of comics, and for a while it seemed like all I was reading was Batman comics. I love Batman comics, but a few months ago I started to want something different. I remembered that a few years ago, I had tried to read some of the Hellblazer comics, which was Constantine’s first solo series, but at the time they were just too weird for me and I gave up.

But I decided, what the heck, there’s no time like the present, so I went out and picked up some Hellblazer comics. I’ve really been enjoying them, even though I’m not always entirely sure what’s going on and I’m sure that some of the social commentary in the comics has completely escaped me, since Hellblazer was originally published in 1988, which also just so happened to be the year I was born, so needless to say I wasn’t exactly aware of the political and social landscape of the time. Please don’t judge me too harshly, as I had only recently been born.

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Anyway, on the off chance that you have absolutely no idea what the bloody hell I’m talking about, let me explain who John Constantine is. I think Wikipedia describes him very well, so allow me to quote: “Constantine is a working class magician, occult detective and con man stationed in London. He is known for his endless cynicism, deadpan snarking, ruthless cunning and constant chain smoking, but is also a passionate humanist driven by a heartfelt desire to do some good in his life.”

I love that description, and I love the character of Constantine. He’s a great big bundle of glorious contradictions, a frequently self-loathing, hard-smoking British sorcerer who nonetheless is driven by a strong desire to help those around him. He’s a cantankerous bastard, and it’s frequently not a good idea to be his friend, since good things don’t usually end up happening to friends of John Constantine.

In the comics, Constantine is no action hero. He gets involved in all kinds of trouble with demons and other supernatural entities, but he talks or cons his way out of trouble, and as a result he frequently makes more enemies than he defeats, and creates more trouble for himself and his friends. His cynicism is somewhat understandable, since all of his attempts to solve problems always end up causing more. This makes him a relatable character, despite all of the supernatural goings-on that surround him.

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The Hellblazer comics are wonderfully weird, and even though the exact details of some of the stories occasionally escape me, I always enjoy the experience. One of the things I enjoy most about the comics is that no two page layouts are ever exactly the same. Sometimes the panels are laid out in such a way that it can be a bit of a challenge at first to figure out the right order in which to read them. But, the right order will eventually present itself, and reading the comics always provides a unique and enjoyable experience.

There have been a couple of screen adaptations of Constantine. The first was the much-maligned 2005 movie version starring Keanu Reeves. The movie made the puzzling decision to take Constantine, who in the comics was blond and British (Sting was the original visual inspiration for the character), and have him be played by Keanu Reeves, who is quite spectacularly neither blond nor British. The movie presents an Americanized version of Constantine who is based in Los Angeles rather than London and has more of an action-hero vibe, who has his own version of James Bond’s Q who supplies him with anti-demon gadgets.

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The movie version is widely hated by Hellblazer fans, and it’s not hard to see why. Pretty much the only aspects of the character that carry over to the movie are Constantine’s cynical nature and constant chain-smoking.

I’ll talk more about the movie in a bit, but first I want to mention the other screen adaptation of Constantine, the TV version which unfortunately only ran for one season on NBC before it was cancelled. I quite liked the TV version, and from what I read the show’s creators tried their best to save it, but NBC wasn’t listening and cancelled it anyway. It’s really too bad, since the show’s portrayal of Constantine is much more in keeping with the Hellblazer comics, with several episodes of the show being more or less direct adaptations of stories from the comics. The only thing the show didn’t have was Constantine’s relentless smoking habit, and that’s probably because smoking onscreen is a bit of a taboo these days.

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In the show, Constantine was played by a Welsh actor named Matt Ryan, who was pretty much perfect in the role. He did a great job encapsulating the character’s world-weary cynicism while still conveying his innate humanity and desire to help people under threat from supernatural forces. Even though NBC cancelled the show, there’s clearly still some love for Ryan’s portrayal of the character, since he recently reprised the role in an episode of the popular TV series Arrow. I watched the episode, even though I had never watched an episode of Arrow before, and despite the fact that I didn’t really know what was going on, I still enjoyed seeing Ryan play Constantine again, he really is the perfect actor for the role.

Since I had been thinking about Constantine a lot from all this, I re-watched the movie the day before I started working on this post, and, well, there are quite a few things to be said about the movie.

Much like the comics, the movie is a deeply strange piece of work and the plot is a bit of a mess. But the movie is bolstered by mostly solid special effects (although some of the CGI does look a bit shonky by today’s standards) and a really great supporting performance from Rachel Weisz. Some of the movie’s casting is a bit weird (aside from Keanu), since the movie casts rocker Gavin Rossdale (lead singer of the band Bush) as a demon named Balthazar, and casts Shia LaBeouf as Constantine’s sidekick Chas.

Constantine the movie is an interesting case. As an adaptation of the source material, it more or less completely fails, but taken as a movie on its own terms, it actually works pretty well. Even though the movie’s version of Constantine the character doesn’t have much in common with his comic book counterpart, his cynicism and world-weariness are very much intact.

And, again, not that surprising. In the movie, God and Lucifer are embroiled in a war for the souls of all mankind, and angels and demons are able to possess and influence humans as half-breeds. As a child, movie Constantine was able to see angels and demons in our world. These visions haunted him, and at 15 he attempted suicide. He was officially dead for two minutes before he was revived, and spent those two minutes in hell. As a result of his suicide attempt, his soul is now bound for hell because of this mortal sin. He now spends his days exorcising demons and banishing (aka killing) half-breeds in an attempt to shore up enough favors with God to earn his way into heaven.

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, this is a Comparative Exponential Religiosity Post. I originally called this little series Comparative Exponential Religiosity Crap, but I decided to leave out the “Crap” part because I don’t want it to seem like I don’t take this subject seriously, or that I don’t respect it, because I do.

Now that that’s cleared up, let’s get on with the movie. In some ways, the movie’s view of matters of faith is somewhat black and white. The movie is heavy on the Catholicism, and since Constantine’s suicide attempt was a mortal sin, his soul is condemned to hell no matter what he does. And his time is running out, since his incessant chain-smoking has given him terminal lung cancer. His predicament is explained in Constantine’s conversation with the angel Gabriel (played by Tilda Swinton, a chameleon of an actor if ever there was one). Now, I’m not saying suicide is or is not something that will instantly condemn your soul to hell, but in order for the plot of the movie to work it kind of has to be. I don’t mean to offend anybody, since I know suicide is a touchy subject, I’m simply trying to examine the film based on its own philosophy.

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Going back to Gabriel, he (she? The movie’s version of Gabriel is intentionally androgynous) tells John that, due to his mortal sin, his soul is going to hell and he can’t do anything about it. His revival after his suicide attempt only gave him a brief reprieve from hell.

But there’s a really interesting idea buried in here. John was in hell for two minutes, and he’s always been able to see angels and demons. He therefore knows conclusively that God and the Devil exist. But since he knows that, is he even capable of having true faith? Is it possible to have faith in something that you know to be real, or is the very concept of faith based on not being able to know something for sure? And if John isn’t capable of having true faith, is he even capable of repentance?

It’s shocking to me that a Hollywood movie raises these questions, and in some ways it’s amazing that this movie ever got made in the first place. Not just because of the religious content, but also because the movie is just so damn strange. In one scene, John, goes to hell by putting his feet into a bucket of water and staring into the eyes of a cat on his lap. This somehow allows him to enter hell, which the movie portrays as a sort of apocalyptic Los Angeles full of crawling demons. During the hell scene, there’s even a brief shot of what appear to be souls writhing in torment. It’s very Dante-esque, and the film doesn’t linger on the image, it’s there and then gone. In some ways it’s a brave movie, since it goes to a lot of places most movies don’t, both literally and figuratively.

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And Keanu is really not that bad in the role. It’s maybe better to view Keanu’s portrayal of Constantine as a character inspired by the comic book version of Constantine, rather than directly based on it. I still hold that Keanu can be a good actor when he wants to be, and his performance in the movie really sells Constantine’s increasing desperation. He just doesn’t look healthy, and as the movie progresses he begins to look downright gaunt.

He is told that Satan wants his soul so badly that his is the only soul Satan would come down to collect himself. Because of all this, he is increasingly unable to see a way out of his predicament, until a detective named Angela, played by Rachel Weisz, comes to him with a unique problem, that just may give him the key to his own salvation.

Angela’s twin sister Isabel (also played by Weisz) has recently killed herself by jumping off the roof of the psychiatric hospital she was a patient at. Despite camera footage showing this, Angela refuses to believe her sister would have killed herself, since Isabel was a devout Catholic and Angela doesn’t believe she would have willingly condemned her own soul to hell. As Angela tells a priest, Isabel never would have killed herself and sent her soul to hell on purpose because “God was the only one she ever believed loved her.”

It turns out that Angela is carrying a lot of grief about her sister’s death, and also how she treated her when she was alive. When they were kids, Isabel and Angela could both see things, like John could, but when Isabel tried to tell people about it Angela would never say that she could see them too. Eventually, Isabel was committed and Angela lost the ability to see the things that both John and her sister are able to see into their adulthood.

I won’t go in to too much detail about the rest of the plot, if all of this trippy stuff sounds interesting and you haven’t already seen the movie it is worth checking out. It may not be a great adaptation of the source material, but as a sort of supernatural neo-noir it works pretty well. Constantine is kind of an occult Philip Marlowe (another character known for his cynicism), and Keanu mutters every line in a way that suggests he may have given up already.

And Rachel Weisz is just terrific in the dual role of twin sisters. Angela (it occurred to me that her name is not coincidental) is a woman of strong faith who encounters something she doesn’t know how to deal with and isn’t willing to accept. Rather than doing nothing about it, she reaches out to someone, and, even though that someone can be kind of a jerk, it ends up leading to something bigger for both her and John. Interestingly, John and Angela are never romantically involved, and even after they stop Satan’s son from entering our world and causing hell on earth, they never even kiss. Weisz is very beautiful, but to the film’s credit she’s not impossibly beautiful. She looks like an actual person that you might see walking down the street. The movie as a whole doesn’t glamorize any of its subject matter or characters, although I guess it wouldn’t be much good as a noir if it did.

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The movie was the directorial debut of Francis Lawrence, who went on to quite a bit of success with the Will Smith-starring sci-fi hit I Am Legend, and has directed three of the four Hunger Games films. Constantine is uneven but overall it’s not a bad effort for a debut feature, it shows he’s got the chops as a visual stylist who doesn’t forget about the importance of character.

And I would be amiss if I failed to mention the great Swedish character actor Peter Stormare (he who put Steve Buscemi through the wood chipper in Fargo) as Public Enemy No. 1, Satan himself. He appears to collect John’s soul at the film’s climax, and has to be one of cinema’s most memorable portrayals of the Prince of Darkness. Clad in a white suit, with tattoos creeping up his neck and bare feet dripping with ichor, he exudes menace and appears slightly steamy, as if he only recently emerged from somewhere a bit toasty. Stormare is fantastic at playing Satan’s leering glee at finally being able to collect his most-desired soul, and even though he is only in the movie for one scene near the end he is still able to neatly steal the entire film.

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So, there are my thoughts about the various incarnations of John Constantine across different media. He’s a fascinating character, and he always keeps you guessing. Sure, he helps people, but how much of that is altruism and how much of it is purely for his own gain? No version of the character ever definitively answers this question, because where would the fun be in that? Constantine can be a charmer or a complete asshole, but somehow he remains very appealing. His popularity has endured for several decades and clearly he still has a substantial fanbase, so who knows what the future might hold for everyone’s favorite British chain-smoking sorcerer?

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Keanu Kraze: John Wick

John Wick is one of the best American action movies I’ve seen in a long time that absolutely any fan of action movies should seek out immediately.

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John Wick stars Keanu Reeves as John Wick, a retired hitman. He got out of the murder business when he got married. At the beginning of the film, his wife has recently died of a terminal illness, and he is mourning her. For the first ten or fifteen minutes of the movie, you could even forget you’re watching an action film. At first, it could be a movie about a man trying to come to terms with his grief. But then, bad guys show up, and the movie kicks in to high gear.

But before that happens, John gets a dog. The dog was a gift from his late wife, and it is just about the most adorable little puppy dog you’ve ever seen. One day, John is out cruising around in his totally kickass Mustang and bonding with his new furry friend, when he stops at a gas station to fill up the aforementioned kickass Mustang. Also at the gas station are a couple of rather unpleasant fellows with Russian accents, whom the viewer can clearly tell are bad dudes. One of them tries to buy John’s car from him, an offer which is refused.

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Later that night, the Russian scumbags from the gas station break into John’s house (mistake), beat him up (BIG mistake), steal his awesome Mustang (REALLY big mistake), and, most heinous of all, KILL HIS ADORABLE PUPPY DOG (GIGANTIC MISTAKE).

So yes, dog lovers be warned, the adorable puppy dog meets a tragic end. The act itself isn’t seen directly (thank goodness), but it’s still a hard scene to watch.

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From this point, I firmly believed that the Russian scumbags absolutely deserved whatever horrible vengeance John freaking Wick had in store for them.

Turns out that Iosef, the ringleader of the puppy-murdering scumbags (played by Alfie Allen, better known as Theon Greyjoy from Game of Thrones), is actually the son of Viggo Tarasov, a seriously bad dude who is the head of the Russian mob in New York, as well as one of John’s former employers.

Viggo (played by Michael Nyqvist, a Swedish actor known for playing Mikael Blomkvist in the Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo movies, as well the villain in Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol) is not happy when he learns what his son has done. He gets my favorite line in the movie when he tells his son that “I once saw John Wick kill three men in a bar…with…a…pencil.”

He tells his foolish son that they used to call John the Boogeyman, and that he was one of their best assassins. He even helped Viggo gain control of the mob by eliminating all of his former rivals, a task so daunting Viggo had thought it to be impossible, but John Wick is such a badass that he did it single-handedly.

Viggo knows that John will not sit idly by and allow Iosef’s actions to go unpunished, and he’s right. John unleashes a whirlwind of murderous vengeance that is awe-inspiring to behold.

But I know what you’re thinking: he goes on gangster-killing revenge spree because of a dog?

Well, yes and no. It’s because of a dog, but it’s not just a dog. Aside from the fact that pretty much any reasonably sane human being would be rather upset if someone murdered their dog for really no reason at all, the dog is representative of something bigger. The dog was a gift from his late wife who was delivered to him after she died, the dog was his only link to her, and, as John tells Viggo late in the movie, the dog meant that he did not have to grieve alone.

And see, that, to me, is powerful. What’s the only thing worse than mourning the loss of a loved one? The prospect of having to go through the rest of your life without that person in it. The dog meant that John wouldn’t have to do that, and a bunch of punks took that from him.

The scene where John explains this to Viggo is, I think, probably the best acting Keanu Reeves has ever done. He gets a lot of flack for his acting being flat, which sometimes it is, but this movie shows that there are some things he’s really good at. Watch the scene on YouTube here and decide for yourself.

And speaking of Reeves’ performance, he is awesome in the action scenes. He has a real physical presence, the way he moves and fights and fires weapons is completely believable. He moves with a sort of practiced ease, and I never had a problem believing that used to be this unstoppable killing machine, because, clearly, he still is.

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Reeves’ performance is complemented by the way the movie’s many action scenes are filmed. The movie was directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (although only Stahelski is credited for whatever reason), both veteran stuntmen making their feature-directing debut. And based on the evidence this movie provides, I am 100% in favor of the two of them making more action movies, since they are clearly very good at it.

All of the film’s action scenes are shot in a way that makes it easy for the viewer to follow what is going on. Modern action films get a lot of criticism for using shaky camera work and really fast editing, but Leitch and Stahelski don’t do either of those things. Their camera movements accentuate Reeves’ movements and actions in a way that is never hard to follow, and absolutely thrilling to watch. The nightclub shootout in particular is the best cinematic nightclub shootout since Michael Mann’s Collateral (and reason #67 why I don’t go to nightclubs).

It’s just a really awesome action movie. Good acting from Reeves and the supporting cast (which also includes Willem Dafoe and the guy who plays Mayhem in those Allstate commercials), simple but interesting setup, and extremely well-choreographed and well-shot action sequences make this a film that should immediately go straight to the top of any action fan’s must-see list.

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