Last Friday I was extremely fortunate to go along to a very special gala screening of John Wick: Chapter Two but this post starts with the arrival of a mysterious gold coin in my mail. On the one side of the coin a Latin inscription - “Ens Causa Sui” above a lion and a shield with a sun emanating from it. All the hallmarks of an exciting mystery or at least engaging cinema experience.
The lion, the shield and the sun are all fairly well known and accepted allegorical and symbolic representations of certain qualities:
|John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)|
After returning to the criminal underworld to repay a debt, John Wick discovers that a large bounty has been put on his life.
Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Common, Claudia Gerini, Lance Reddick, Laurence Fishburne, John Leguizamo
The Shield. Defence and protection.
Whilst most importantly the sun and it's rays of light. Traditional the the sun is symbolic of a supreme or higher being. Its position at the centre of the shield giving it and what is represents important prominence. The rays of the sun also have meaning, they could represent the all seeing, all knowing eye of the supreme or the rays could mean heat/arrows that purify. All very old testament.
The allegorical imagery combined with the Latin inscription “Ens Causa Sui” meaning: “His reason for being” or “being one's own cause” or “being the cause of” or just “being his cause”. Possibly lean towards a deeper provenience that may become clear as revelations are made.
Now I'm not prattling on about this really cool little prop because I'm a geek, well that too, but does this close up look at one of the coins used by the secret underworld of John Wick as their own currency and ingress to the closed doors of their secret society give us some insight into the bigger scheme of things that may be further fleshed out? It is clear that there is something bigger going in the world of John Wick that needs further exploration.
The Establishing Shot: JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 GUN CLIP KEANU REEVES LAURENCE FISHBURNE - 17 FEB 2017
For completeness sake - typically in heraldry and the world of symbols there is a balance to the imagery, as there are to the prop coins used in filming John Wick.
... one side of the coin is Peace and Violence in one character, and the other side there is a Lion, for strength and a Shield for protection because these coins, if you've got one, you're protected.”These coins along with other touchstones (and sets of rules, as to how a film world works) are important, as these type of artefacts bring a hands on credibility and immersion to the environment of the world created on screen. Much like Nolan's clever use of the dream totems his characters had had in Inception - these gold coins bring some tangibility (as well as mystery) to the world of John Wick.
- Dan Leigh Production Designer John Wick
The coin was, I must say, a rather clever and awesome invite to an evening of John Wick: Chapter Two. Playing neatly into the entrée theme the coins have in the secret world of John Wick.
|John Wick: Chapter 2 Poster [Full size Gallery]|
A truly surreal and special moment given Reeves' place in modern film history as well as being one of the coolest people in show business.
The Establishing Shot: KEANU REEVES SURPRISES US AT A SCREENING OF JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 - 17 FEB 17
The lights dim.
The Establishing Shot: JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 TRAILER 2 - 17 FEB 2017
Director Chad Stahelski has interesting background, one that serves him well making films in the action genre. An almost life long martial arts practitioner specialising in kick-boxing and Kung Fu, particularly the styles taught by Bruce Lee. He got his break in film with roles in various low budget films before stunt doubling for Brandon Lee in The Crow. He again leveled up when he doubled for Keanu Reeves in the incredibly successful Matrix as well as choreographing fight sequences in the sequels. His career exploded as he worked on a number of big budget films as stunt co-ordinator/choreographer. Whilst slowly transition to behind the camera as a second-unit directing on a number of blockbusters - before making his fully fledged debut as a feature film director with 2014's John Wick.
The Establishing Shot: CHAD STAHELSKI AT THE JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 GALA UK SCREENING - 17 FEB 2017
Too be honest I wasn't the biggest fan of the original John Wick, I enjoyed some elements of it and it was technically very well shot, as was the sound design captured, the action set pieces were outstanding - but I struggled with the well worn storyline and the very likeable Keanu Reeves as a brutal assassin, these days even the bad guys have to be likeable and hiding a heart of gold.
But with Stahelski's John Wick: Chapter 2 this is quite the contrary the story is able to push forward surprise as it engages and the performances are given more credibility because the close quarters action scenes are so well devised, carried out and filmed.
- John Wick: Chapter Two Production Notes
The action genre is absolutely saturated with many variations on theme, fighting styles tailored for all budgets and film-makers looking to raise the bar or break out are always searching for innovative ways to engage audiences - this is where Stahelski's background comes to the fore. The fight scenes are top notch and absolutely outstanding.
|John Wick: Chapter 2 Keanu Reeves as John Wick, Ruby Rose as Ares, Riccardo Scamarcio as Santino D'Antonio [Full size Gallery]|
- John Wick: Chapter Two Production Notes
John Wick: Chapter 2 is a case study of what happens when somebody who understands the physical arts as well as film, is able to make the most of the aesthetics. Not only do the fight scenes look real and dangerously seductive (in spite of the violence), the whole film is gorgeous to look at. To achieve this Stahelski brought Danish cinematographer and Guillermo del Toro regular Dan Laustsen onboard, his eye combined with Stahelski's feel for action elevate the film. In John Wick there are clear visual distinctions between the world and the underworld and a rich use of various bold and striking neon colours as well as desaturation to reinforce and enhance moods and tonal shifts making each frame like a postcard.
|John Wick: Chapter 2 Ian McShane as Winston, Keanu Reeves as John Wick, Common as Cassian, Ruby Rose as Ares [Full size Gallery]|
All of which brings me to the cast, as beautiful looking, as a film is, if the cast fail, the film will invariably follow. John Wick 2 really allows Common to bring gravitas to his performance as Cassian, as it does with Ruby Rose as Ares, both of them bring their best performances to date on screen to John Wick: Chapter 2. As always Ian McShane is disarmingly charmingly whilst giving off an aura of deadly menace as The Continental Hotel's proprietor Winston. I'm a huge fan of John Leguizamo who plays Aurelio, I think he is a vastly versatile actor who is underrated, he really should be headlining some serious & powerful films earning him all the awards. Any opportunity to see him on screen is good by me.
Now Keanu Reeves is a bit of wild card as he is a very bankable A- lister, who takes on risky and varied projects of all sizes. I would be surprised if all his varied works pleased everyone, at least that is my experience. I have loved some of films to the nth degree whilst not being charmed by others.
|John Wick: Chapter 2 Keanu Reeves as John Wick and his nameless dog Full size Gallery|
The Establishing Shot: KEANU REEVES AT THE JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 GALA UK SCREENING - 17 FEB 2017
|John Wick: Chapter 2 Keanu Reeves as John Wick [Full size Gallery]|
Video: John Wick: Chapter 2 – Training Featurette - Warner Bros. UK
… Stahelski watched the training pay off once cameras started rolling. “Keanu trained three or four times a week for 10 weeks firing anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 rounds at each session,” he says. “Once we got him dialed in so precisely with live fire, we took him into the gym with replica weapons and worked out the choreography. By the time we started shooting, Keanu had so much muscle memory he was able to perform the Gun-Fu scenes brilliantly.”...
- John Wick: Chapter Two Production Notes
And not to labour the point it really does pay off as the action set pieces are outstanding, they seem real but surreal at the same - like they are taking place in a different world and as with the original they are a gorgeous ballet of blood, swirls of color punctuated by the sound of gunshots.
Video: John Wick: Chapter 2 - Symphony of Violence - Warner Bros. UK
I loved the conceit of the opening of John Wick 2, there is a great nod to physical performances letting us know what to expect from the film as well as immediately establishing, or rather reminding us of, what kind of man John Wick is, and he is a man who likes completeness. We also have a mystery from the original film solved. Before smashing into a new adventure that again unleashes John Wick onto a bigger stage.
The original John Wick story suffered a little bit from the old well worn revenge tale syndrome, albeit with innovative hooks and clever devices bolted on. However, as the groundwork has now been laid John Wick 2 can get on a tell a story. As I mentioned before I struggled a little with Reeves' John Wick character in the first film but shed of the origin, Chapter 2 allows his stoic deadpan delivery to hit it's stride as he embodies an unrelenting, tactically proficient, unstoppable force. This is the driving inertia of John Wick and everything else is built around it.
In John Wick: Chapter 2 we get to see more of the secret assassin world, as well as the hierarchies and codes that govern the secret guild. They also bring in some outside surprises that expands this world giving us an inkling that the covert world may be a lot bigger than we think. In the first film there were hints that there is something much larger going on in John Wick and with the second film this solidifies a little more and I'm guessing secrets will be revealed moving forward.
However all things considered a small element of the story that fell a little flat for me were the - what now seems très cliché - assassin gearing up with his tools of the trade, it starts suitably but sadly descends into a too forced parody. Humour is a good way to bring balance to the high calibre action but I felt it was a bit of a wasted opportunity which could have been used better to build on Wick's skills or tools or even developing the characters a little.
A lot of the enjoyment of John Wick and John Wick: Chapter 2 is the discovery of this secret world, the bone crunching incredible action scenes as well as the very likeable driving force of Keanu Reeves as a fearsome assassin. I believe there is a subtle nod to to one of the most hardcore tough guys on film ever - Walker played by Lee Marvin in John Boorman's Point Blank.
In Chapter 2 there is a moment where Keanu Reeves' John Wick crosses a line and if he has a heart of gold it is very deeply buried. For me this was a pivotal moment where instead of being told how bad ass Wick is, he actually lives up to his fearsome reputation. This made a lot difference to me in the way I could view the film.
The Establishing Shot: JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 AGAIN SO SOON CLIP REEVES LANCE REDDICK - 17 FEB 2017
The full John Wick: Chapter Two Image Gallery can be viewed here!
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER TWO bursts onto UK cinema screens from February 17, 2017, with previews on Valentine’s Day!
|Craig is a retired superhero, an obsessive hobbyist, comics fan, gadget lover & flâneur who knows an unhealthy amount about Ian Fleming's James Bond.|
When not watching or making films he takes pictures, eats, drinks, dives, tries to connect to nature whilst mentally storyboarding the greatest film ever made. He also & sometimes utilises owl-themed gadgets to fight crime.
A list of his 133 favourite films can be found here! If you would still like to contact Craig please use any of the buttons below: