Friday, 24 February 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2

John Wick: Chapter 2 - 15, 122 mins, Warner Bros Pictures.

When the original John Wick turned out to be a surprise hit in 2014, it was the left-field, indie-actioner, that brought Keanu Reeves back into prominence, after successes such as Speed and The Matrix Trilogy. Now, here’s the rather inevitable sequel - exactly the sort of undemanding, mindless fare that made similar projects such as the Transporter or Hitman series so popular, in a niche way, with their core audiences - namely teenage boys and video-gamers.
  There are plenty of slick action set-pieces that have lots of kinetic energy - super-charged car chases on twilit New York streets, and probably more screen-time given to fighting than actual dialogue scenes. But these seemingly endless, prolonged sequences; a gruelingly violent mixture of hand-to-hand combat and gun-fu (kung-fu with guns, imaginatively), become a little relentless after a while, even though they’re quite viscerally immersive - you do feel every punch.
  Keanu Reeves’s performance as the titular assassin, also known as the elusive ‘bogeyman’, reminded me slightly of Daniel Craig’s Bond: very accomplished physically, but so monotone, flat and lifeless when needing to inject any emotional range into the role. His register never changes from being distractingly one-note throughout.
 However, there’s a strong, eclectic supporting cast. John Leguizamo’s brief cameo adds much-needed humour to proceedings which otherwise frequently feel either far too serious, or intentionally deadpan. There’s an appealingly stoic, grounded turn from Ian McShane as a subtly authoritarian boss, and even a well-judged surprise for Matrix fans - a welcome reunion for Reeves and Laurence Fishburne, playing a similar mentor figure.
  There are some stylish choices: a moment of speed-ramped cinematography, a few nods to multi-cultural, pop-art iconography, and occasional retro, florescent subtitles. Also, there’s an effective, hall-of-mirrors style finale very reminiscent of Scaramanga’s fun-house at the end of The Man With The Golden Gun. All of these elements can’t quite make up for gratuitous shock-tactics and flimsy plotting. But those who don’t mind such shortcomings should enjoy it and of course, the open-ended structure definitely sets up a third chapter. For better or worse, I suspect we’ll be seeing Mr. Wick again soon…
 Rating: * *

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Monday, 13 February 2017

Fifty Shades Darker

Fifty Shades Darker, Cert: 18, 118 mins. Universal.

The literary phenomenon that proved to be unbelievably lucrative, resulted in an inevitable big-screen adaptation, with 2015’s Fifty Shades Of Grey. It was wooden, lifeless and yet oddly compulsive.
 Now, comes this cynical money-maker of a sequel, with equally waxwork performances and terrible dialogue. ‘I will have dinner with you…because I’m hungry’ is about as sophisticated as it gets. What could’ve been a interesting, darkly complex character study on human desire, instead just all feels so vacuous - another missed opportunity, favouring commercialisation over nuance.
It’s about as flat as one of those flutes of champagne these shamelessly ostentatious characters are forever drinking at endless receptions. Set within a decidedly deliberate milieu of functions, parties and skyscrapers, it never actually shows anybody doing any real work; it’s a mystery how they earn all this money - all very glossy but extremely implausible.
Even those supposedly ‘infamous scenes’ once again feel awkwardly stagy and mannered, without a modicum of the steam or spark generated by others in a similarly adult canon - such as Basic Instinct or Fatal Attraction. The result, is that proceedings often feel unintentionally funny for all the wrong reasons.  What works marginally better, is the briefly explored cat-and-mouse thriller element: there’s an unstable ex, a helicopter crash, and a solid enough cameo from a spiky Kim Basinger, but all of these are rather brushed over, and could’ve been explored further.
Jamie Dornan can be a good actor (he was great in last year’s gripping World War II drama Anthropoid), but he’s utterly stilted here, totally wasted on dull material for a cardboard-cut-out, humourless character.
 Despite the odd stronger scene and a contemporary soundtrack, as with its predecessor, it’s all extremely uninvolving. So, the reason for its immense popularity, as well as the question of who exactly are the intended audience - are both conundrums which remain perplexing. I shall have to watch the third concluding chapter, if only to solve these mysteries, and understand its extraordinarily enduring appeal.

Rating: * *

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