As I walked out of the theatre after seeing John Wick Chapter 2, I asked my wife Ashley the same question I ask her every time we leave a movie. “What’d ya think?”
I could hear the glow in her voice.
And hearing her explain it, she loved the same things I did:
- The beauty of movement – the judo, the gun fighting, the stunt choreography
- The beauty of the cinematography and the long static shots
- The depth of the backstory and world creation
When my turn came, it was much more difficult for me to say whether I did or didn’t like it.
Like Ashley, I agreed that there were so many things about the film that were just so beautiful and artful. But for some reason, it didn’t ever draw me in like the first film did.
I told Ashley that part of me was conflicted about how violent it was – there were a lot of exploding heads and close up gun shots to the face.
I mean a lot.
But everything was done so beautifully – with so much love. On that we both agreed.
Still, I couldn’t say that I liked it – or at least I couldn’t say that I felt good about liking it.
As we hopped back on the streetcar and headed to our parking spot, my mind started working.
Wasn’t the original John Wick just as violent as this one? I felt no conflict about it. Why was this one different? Was it just me? Was I just in a different mood? Did I eat something?
The next day, I started researching the original John Wick to try and identify what the difference was.
Ok, that’s a big difference, but the number couldn’t be what was causing me problems. If I was ok with 77, 128 isn’t much of a leap.
But seeing that the first movie was 77 surprised me a bit. I didn’t remember it being that many people. It didn’t feel like a lot to me.
Why was that? What was different about the first film?
I started watching trailers of the original to see if I could pinpoint the difference.
Aha. There it was.
Did you see it?
In the original John Wick, the main character’s emotional need is driven by the senseless murder of his puppy, a gift from his wife upon her recent death. This setup and scene is very moving.
So when John goes on a nearly hundred man rampage, I felt like it was justified. I don’t like the idea of revenge at all, but watching the senseless murder of his innocent puppy made me empathize instantly with Wick’s pain.
John Wick Chapter 2, however, provided us with a much less believable motivation. Upon arriving home from his aforementioned rampage, John again vows to put all this behind him once and for all. As a symbol of his solidarity, he buries his weapons in the basement seals them in a concrete tomb.
Then, as he’s finishing the procedure, an old assassin friend arrives at his doorstep to call a long forgotten debt due. As expected, to repay the debt John must go on another killing spree.
I’m not sure what John was expecting when he declines the bad man’s offer, but the inevitable ensues. The bad man torches his house, supposedly the last remnant of John’s deceased wife, and John decides he has to pay his debt, eventually leading to a 128-man killing spree.
In the book, A Story Is A Promise, author Bill Johnson argues that “a story should be a promise” and that “a promise should be kept”. He goes on to elaborate that the promise needs to start with some true emotional need of the character being unmet. The plot of a story should then set events into motion that will eventually resolve with the character’s need being satisfactorily met.
The reason I felt conflicted about all the killing this time around was that I had a difficult time buying into John’s emotional need. Since I couldn’t relate to his emotional need, it made it a little tough for me to swallow his actions. By the end of the movie I kind of felt like John was really just a psychopath. He was never really going to put his guns away, I thought. He was just waiting for the slightest opportunity to come knocking on his door so he could practice his dirty craft on some unsuspecting night club security guard.
Ok, I thought. So that’s it. That’s why I had a harder time connecting to this movie than the last one.
To their credit, the directors were fully aware of this challenge. In an interview by Screen Junkies, Chad Stahelski and Dave Leitch talked about the problem they faced called the “curse of the sequel”.
“How do you create an emotional buy-in that is as strong as the original without telling the same story again?” they asked.
“You only get one puppy a career,” Stahelski says.
Having settled my internal conflict, I found myself gaining a deeper appreciation for what the directors were able to create.
The directors’, both former stuntmen and stunt coordinators, goal in making both John Wick and the sequel was to answer the question, “Can we make an artistic action movie?”
I believe what these gentlemen have created in John Wick and John Wick Chapter 2 answer a resounding yes.
My judgement is that if you can, like the director’s suggest, buy the premise that this is a fantasy world in which not a single innocent person is killed, John Wick: Chapter 2 is one of the most beautiful action flicks in modern history.
But for me, it was harder to enjoy than the original.
What do you think? Was John Wick Chapter 2 as good as the original?