Category Archives: 2017

Their Finest (2017)

WWII movies have been done to death, but Lone Scherfig (An Education) brings a new angle on the conflict. Mrs. Cole (Gemma Arterton; Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time) joins the British Ministry of Information’s film team working on propaganda films. Her job is to write the “slop”, meaning the women’s dialogue, and inspire them to send their sons and husbands to war. In her way are production conflicts, entitled actors, and a clearly sexist mentality in her predominantly male organization.

The film’s visuals are what we’ve come to expect for period pieces. Colors are muted with only subtle blues and reds to stand out from the dominant grays. The sets incorporate a lot of green screen in order provide era-appropriate backdrops, but these skylines are glaringly synthetic. The contrast in the gray is more reminiscent of Sin City’s hyper-stylized visuals than sepia-toned photographs the filmmakers were likely targeting. While not unpleasant by any means, the heavy digital coloring and choice of sets instead of physical locations make the film more like an artificial, computer-generated landscape than an authentic 1940s London.

The elaborate sets never feel like a real location.

Feminist themes provide the backbone of the film. Mrs. Cole has to deal with constant derision and her intelligent opinions are often overruled or simply disregarded because of her gender. The film makes it obvious how little her contribution is initially valued as she accepts no writing credit and a lower pay than her male peers. As cliché and predictable as it might be, her growing confidence and reputation with the cast and crew are incredibly rewarding. She pitches movies, rewrites endings, and becomes the go-to writer as she consistently proves her ability to create emotions in her screenplay. Her progression from meekly consenting to others to firmly standing by her opinions is a simple, but enjoyable change.

Along with its message, the film brings plenty of humor. Bill Nighy (Love Actually) plays an aging self-absorbed actor whose fame may have subsided in reality but is still very much alive in his own mind. His melodramatic flourishes during his acting scenes or exaggerated advice to a new actor are hilarious. He is the veteran with too much pride and too little patience to bother with pleasantries as he calls out others and demands rewrites so he can have more screen time. His sassy attitude prevents the film from becoming too rigid.

The producers from the Ministry say they are looking to make films that have “Authenticity informed by optimism” to motivate their people for the war efforts.  The makers of this film have plenty of the latter but lack the former. There are major, unneeded plot turns that add forced drama. They feel cheap and go against the grain of the otherwise natural character arcs. These may be holdovers from the novel the film is based on, but they feel constructed for the sole purpose of making the audience cry by any means necessary and are so blatant that they are almost insulting. Arterton’s performance as the ever-committed Mrs. Cole and the unexpected humor are enjoyable, but they can’t overcome a contrived third act.

3/5 stars.

Colossal (2017)

Nacho Vigalondo, the Spanish director who debuted with the similarly strange Timecrimes, is back with his highest profile release yet. Colossal stars Anne Hathaway (The Devil Wears Prada) as she plays against type as Gloria, an out-of-control alcoholic writer who returns to her small-town family home after being kicked out by her fed-up boyfriend. When back home she reunites with a childhood friend (Jason Sudeikis; We’re the Millers) and discovers that she is somehow controlling a giant Godzilla-like monster rampaging through South Korea.

The ridiculous setup brings lots of laughs. As Gloria discovers the rules of her powers, her drunken attempts to make sense of things are hilarious and Hathaway is clearly enjoying herself in the role. In her few moments of sobriety she fails miserably at explaining her situation to her friends. It isn’t until she starts making the monster dance or do other unusual movements that she is able to convince them. These scenes become comedic as the director crosscuts between her steps in a suburban playground and the masses of hysterical people fleeing city-wide destruction in Seoul. Then, when she is afraid of what might happen if others knew about her ability, she clumsily tries to hide the truth, as if anyone would believe her. When Gloria is still discovering the rules of her situation, the film is as funny as it is intriguing.

The discovery of Gloria’s powers is the best part of the film.

What’s surprising is how being the monster changes her. In her previous life, Gloria’s lack of responsibility allowed her to spiral out of control. She didn’t have any impact on others so she was left without a purpose until now. The ability to control a gigantic beast in another country becomes empowering. She can suddenly communicate with and affect the lives of millions and it changes the way she approaches her life. She starts to make better decisions (i.e. drinking less) and taking more responsibility. The use of the supernatural setup to grow her character is an unexpectedly compelling character arc.

It’s the film’s latter half that drags it down. Unsatisfied with the lighter tone, Vigalondo moves the film into much darker territory. Certain characters make abrupt turns into villainous roles and the sudden change is unearned. It ruins the fun of the wacky premise and doesn’t match the precedent set by the early parts of the movie. The director also adds unnecessary exposition. There are brief flashbacks throughout the film that hint at the cause of Gloria’s powers, but when their true nature is fully revealed it creates plot holes rather than filling them. The explanation doesn’t add gravity to the film and only distracts from the core: Gloria’s self-improvement. As strange as it seems, these changes stretch belief more than Anne Hathaway controlling a kaiju.

The most important factors in a film like this are consistency and commitment. Consistency in tone and commitment to the story. Far-fetched premises like Being John Malkovich, or any of Charlie Kaufman’s works for that matter, succeed because they have a clear emotional direction and stick to that angle. Other unusual takes on the kaiju genre like Bong Joon-ho’s The Host managed their lighter approach because they never deviated from their initial intent. Instead of continuing in the tone of Colossal’s successful early sections, Vigalondo loses focus and falls prey to damaging forced conflict and exposition.

3/5 stars.

The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017)

The WWII/Holocaust movie has been explored ad nauseam but New Zealand director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) has brought her attempt to standout within the crowded genre. The film covers the true story of Antonina (Jessica Chastain; Zero Dark Thirty) and her husband. They are the owners of the Warsaw Zoo and when Germany invades and their animals are taken away, they use the extra space to smuggle Jews from the ghetto. Daniel Brühl (Rush) plays the German head of zoology that takes command of their zoo and has his eyes on Antonina as well.

With so much centered on the lead, Caro couldn’t have cast a better actress. Chastain’s Polish accent is jarring at first, but it never falters and becomes more natural as the film continues. She is completely at ease with the animals, large and small, and her gentle nature make the role believable beyond the problematic script. This is helped by the decision to only use live animals. It allows a natural chemistry that wouldn’t have been possible with computer generated effects and makes the setting feel like a real zoo.

The film’s major failing is that Antonina is too one dimensional. Despite Chastain’s committed performance, the character is unintentionally simplistic. Instead of being a pure, innocent person in a world where humanity is lacking, much like Chastain’s character in The Tree of Life, she can come off as weak, short-sided, and childish, particularly early on. There are a few moments of strength but she spends most of the time at the mercy of others and when the situation worsens, her actions are unrealistic for any adult in the same circumstances.

Antonina is not the brave or nuanced character the story requires her to be.

Antonina is supposed to be a hero, and her real-life efforts were truly deserving of that descriptor, but the film underplays her involvement. When her husband first suggests bringing Jews from the ghetto to hide in their zoo, she protests on grounds that it would put them at risk. While this is a very reasonable fear given the consequences of the period, it does nothing to cast Antonina in a heroic light. When the German troops first invade Poland, she seems more concerned with keeping her animals than the people that are suffering. Her focus on animals before humans makes her a myopic character and her initial dissent against the rescue efforts portray her as more of a bystander than an active participant in the noble acts.

The director has claimed that this is a different type of Holocaust story. It’s true that few movies set in this period or about war examine female-led stories, and even fewer still show them as brave. The trouble is that the script has held too closely to established tropes of the genre. There is very little that separates this film from the glut of similar stories. The biggest surprise is that it is opening in March instead of the end of year release expected for biopics. Furthermore, the script doesn’t give Antonina the strength she needs. She is often shown as more submissive than courageous and that prevents her from becoming the icon she so clearly deserves to be. Caro’s intent is admirable and Chastain’s performance is excellent, but they are held back by the underwritten lead role and familiar biopic dressings.

3/5 stars.

Personal Shopper (2017)

Olivier Assayas’s newest film was surprisingly the most divisive entry at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. After the screening, several critics booed the movie while others applauded. Despite the mixed reaction, most likely in response to the ending, it went on to win the award for Best Director. Personal Shopper is the second team-up between Assayas and Kristen Stewart after 2015’s Clouds of Sils Maria. Stewart plays Maureen, a personal shopper in Paris who happens to be a medium. Her twin brother, also a medium, recently died from a congenital heart disease they both share. They made a promise at a young age that whoever passed away first would give the other a sign from the afterlife so Maureen stays put in a job she hates, waiting for his signal.

Stewart delivers consistently strong acting. Her conflicted expressions display her fragile emotional state. Losing her twin brother was losing a part of herself and that mourning prevents her otherworldly explorations from becoming pretentious or irritating. During her day job buying clothes for her wealthy employer she shows her professional ennui without appearing whiny. Her character’s longing to reconnect with her twin brother and inability to move past with death are deeply sympathetic. Her previous experience working with the director has clearly benefitted her as she completely inhabits the role.

There is a certain amount of unintended silliness to the movie’s premise. It’s very easy for ghost stories to become laughable when attempts to connect with spirits are stilted and Personal Shopper occasionally veers into that territory. Large portions of the film feature Stewart texting the ghost that is supposedly stalking her which isn’t as foreboding as direct contact would have been. There are scenes when this type of communication is used effectively, like turning on your phone to see a series of progressively violent texts, but at times it makes the spectral world seem disappointingly mundane.

Stewart’s fearful attempts to make contact are the best parts of the film.

When Maureen is faced with meeting a ghost in person, the film is able to ratchet up the tension. As she explores an empty house or apartment looking for a signal from a spirit that may or may not be her brother, there is a palpable sense of dread because anything can be mistaken as a sign. Did someone leave that faucet on? Is it the wind that opened this door? Stewart’s performance hypersensitizes the audience to every irregular detail that could potentially be caused by supernatural interference. These scenes create the desired apprehension and show the potential of what the film could have been.

Personal Shopper is help back by its unfocused screenplay. Assayas splits the runtime across the intriguing ghost story and the fairly banal workplace drama. This prevents either aspect from being fully developed and actively harms the tone created in the ghost story. Maureen’s dissatisfaction with the menial tasks the make up her job and the demanding, inconsiderate diva she works for is relatable but consumes unnecessary screen time. Had Assayas been more decisive with his focus, he could have either made a compelling exploration of the afterlife or an interesting drama about a stifling dead-end job. Without a clear direction, Personal Shopper can’t succeed beyond Stewart’s committed performance.

3/5 stars.

Raw (2017)

The first thing to know about Raw is that it’s not for the squeamish. Its early screenings have caused audience walkouts, vomiting, and even fainting in festivals from Gothenburg to Toronto. Even knowing that you’re about to see a difficult film is not enough preparation, so consider yourself warned. The story follows Justine (Garance Marillier), a young woman raised vegetarian, who begins her first year of veterinary school. This is the same school her parents went to and her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is a senior student there. During a hazing ritual in her first week, Justine is forced to eat a raw rabbit kidney. From there, her taste for meat grows and can only be satisfied by human flesh.

The body horror is disgusting. And by that I mean it is incredibly realistic. The film is filled with blood and lacerated flesh. The practical effects capture the repulsive sheen of blood coated surfaces. Justine’s mouth, dripping with the thick crimson fluid, is a disturbing sight to behold. The movie also features some vomit-inducing scenes involving human hair shot in extreme closeup to prevent the viewer from any chance of relief. The effects, and their staging, make viewing a harrowing experience.

Justine is always at the mercy of those around her.

Despite being her first theatrical feature, director Julia Ducournau is remarkably adept at tackling complex topics. She uses long takes during Justine’s first party experience to convey the mass hysteria of young people raging with drugs and alcohol. She is even able to examine the subtleties of sibling relationships within the context of Justine’s nascent cannibalism. When Justine is forced to betray her personal beliefs by eating meat, she takes out her anger on Alexia for not supporting her. The two argue, slam doors, and even fight, but their love for each other comes through when they are at their worst. As their primal appetites surface, they reach an understanding with each other. Ducournau is able to capture the clashes that underscore the love between siblings.

Marillier’s performance prevents the movie from devolving into schlock material. Her genuine confusion as she deals with the changes in and around her is in stark contrast to her peers. Even as her lips are stained red with blood, her face exudes innocence, not malice. Her bloodlust appears like an uncontrollable urge hard-wired into her. She tries to stop her habit from growing, but it is a part of her being. The compassion her acting elicits makes her a sympathetic character, even when her actions are aberrant.

Raw might be best described as a cannibal coming of age movie. As violent as Justine’s habits become, they are symptomatic of her sheltered life. She is shown as the well-behaved, hard-working child that hasn’t experienced the world. Whether it’s cannibalism, sexual awakening, or independence from her family, she hasn’t had the chance to define herself and the changes are just another part of her self-discovery. Ducournau grounds the explicit narrative and transgressive behavior with the symbolism of a young woman finding herself and directs the gore with unsettling skill.

4/5 stars.

Song to Song (2017)

Continuing his rapid pace of releasing movies, Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line) sets his newest film in the music scene. It features a star-studded cast with Michael Fassbender (Shame) as a music producer, Ryan Gosling (Drive) and Rooney Mara (Lion) as performers, and Cate Blanchett (The Lord of the Rings) and Natalie Portman (Black Swan) as other women who get wrapped up in their series of short-lived affairs.

The film’s “plot” is barely present and the few discernable aspects are disappointing. Supposedly, Song to Song is a romance, but there is nothing remotely romantic shown. Malick is known for not using traditional scripts. He relies on actors to improvise scenes based on only the setup and never have the pitfalls of this approach been more apparent than the scenes of what I can only assume was intended to be romantic chemistry. The actors have big smiles on their faces as they attempt to have authentic, playful interactions. Instead, they come off as annoying or severely cringe-inducing, best exemplified in a scene where Fassbender hops around a beach screeching and scratching like a monkey. As painful as these scenes are to watch, I can only feel sorry for the actors that had to perform them.

There is also a worrying trend regarding the treatment of women. Malick has been known for infantilizing his female characters. They are often young, innocent girls or adult women who display a pure naivete, but this previously appeared to come from a good place. It seemed like a celebration of innocence rather than a restriction on what women could do, but his new films have revealed some disturbing ideas. As in his last film, the women here are treated as sexual objects to be used, cast off, then reused when needed. They may have their own motivations but Malick’s portrayal shows them as little more than ways for his hedonistic male characters to satisfy their own desires.

The upscale parties and general opulence offer little reason to feel for the characters.

Visuals have always been Malick’s strong suit, but even that seems to be deteriorating. Using his regular cinematographer, the incredibly talented Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity), he is again able to create some stunning natural-light footage. Yet, there are a few confusing choices that mar his normally perfect images. Several scenes were shot on location at the music festival Austin City Limits and some use GoPro-like cameras. This was likely done to get closer to the action of the mosh pits, but the lower-resolution fish-eye shots do not mesh with the rest of the film. Their low-quality is a glaring fault. There is also a strange overuse of oblique angles. Many scenes are off-kilter close-ups of an actor’s face. Perhaps this was done to convey the subjectivity of the character’s thoughts, but instead it is only distracting. These unfortunate choices detract what would otherwise be the film’s greatest strength.

One of the few changes to Malick’s style is his use of music. His usual ethereal, orchestral score is still present, but, due to the setting, more modern music is also included. These songs offer some desperately needed energy to the film. Their use helps add variety to the soundtrack and breaks up the overused strings. It was perhaps the only modernizing of Malick’s approach throughout the film.

Song to Song is almost a repeat of Knight of Cups but set in the music world instead of the film industry. Like that movie, there are people living in exorbitant wealth while pursuing their dreams that are inexplicably mopey. Characters go after their desires in selfish ways and, when the obvious consequences occur, Malick expects the audience to sympathize with them. But, why would we? He, like his characters, appears to be living in a bubble. There are no sympathetic or relatable characters here, only sketches of vague emotions. The frequent voiceovers are filled with pretentious, pseudo-philosophical thoughts that are often unrelated to anything onscreen and read like midnight scrawlings from the director’s bedside notebook. His narrative films after the flawed, but magnificent The Tree of Life, if you can call them narrative films, have been a continual letdown. Malick’s work has sunk further into incessant navel-gazing and his visual style is no longer enough to make up for it. Song to Song is another exercise in Malick’s recent string of insufferable self-indulgence.

1/5 stars.

Get Out (2017)

Making a 180-degree switch, Jordan Peele (Key & Peele) directs and writes Get Out, his first feature. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya; Sicario), a black man, has been dating Rose (Allison Williams; Girls), a white woman, for some time. They decide to spend the weekend at her parent’s house so Chris can finally meet her family. Chris is uneasy about what her parent’s reaction might be and his initial concern turns into suspicion after meeting the two family servants, both black, who seem to be too polite and too satisfied with their current situation.

Despite the genre, Peele remains true to his comedy roots. Comedian Lil Rel Howery costars as the TSA agent best friend. Normally this type of role could conflict with the film’s intent, but Peele is able to use this character to prevent the film from becoming too serious. Howery becomes the viewer surrogate. He says all the things that audience members normally shout at the screen during a horror movie and is able to be consistently funny without ever becoming obnoxious or distracting.

Get Out’s strengths in confronting racism come out in the little details. Rose’s family aren’t overtly racist, cross-burning, KKK members, but their prejudices comes out in subtle ways. It’s the way Rose’s dad keeps calling Chris “my man” and the way an older female relative feels his muscles as if he is an animal. It’s not that these people think less of him because of his race, it’s the assumptions they make about him. All of these behaviors, while satirical in nature, ring true. Any minority can attest to being in similar situations. Peele deserves enormous credit for accurately highlighting these forms of ingrained prejudice.

Rose’s family’s interactions with Chris capture the minute changes they make because of his race.

Where the film stumbles is with its narrative turns. The setup is nothing new and was mostly shown in its trailers. It’s basically The Stepford Wives with race instead of gender and the film doesn’t ever build past that starting point. The exact details of the situation might be a slight surprise to some, but the direction the film is headed is clear from the beginning. The underlying cause of this failure is Peele’s inability to produce sustained tension. For the audience to be invested in Chris’s situation, there needed to be a possibility that everything was normal and that Chris was just being paranoid. By not keeping the alternatives plausible, Peele effectively saps the film of the suspense it needed to be successful.

It also features some incredibly contrived plotting. In order to push the story to a climax, many films have forced reveals that are caused by actions that don’t make sense for the characters to do. For example, the villain might just happen to leave out a notebook that contains their plans. Get Out unfortunately uses a similar plot device to progress the film. It breaks the immersion and feels entirely artificial. Get Out is an encouraging debut for Jordan Peele, but it’s well-balanced humor and look at the subtle details of race relations are held back by a borrowed, predictable, and often forced narrative.

3/5 stars.

The Salesman (2017)

Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) was absent from this year’s Oscars due his protest of the recent immigration ban, but his latest release was very much in the room. He won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for the second time with The Salesman. The film stars many of his regular collaborators with Shahab Hosseini (A Separation) as Emad and Taraneh Alidoosti (About Elly) as Rana, a married couple who are actors currently costarring in a production of Death of a Salesman. After their apartment building is damaged in a construction accident, they move to a recently vacated apartment recommended by another actor. Shortly after moving in, when Emad is out, Rana is assaulted by an intruder while taking a shower. The rest of the film deals with the aftermath of this attack as the couple decides what to do next.

The Salesman brings Farhadi into noticeably darker material. While his films are well known for being morally complicated, his previous works did not feature this kind of deliberate criminality. In addition to a series of well-intentioned but disastrous errors, this movie focuses on crime, punishment, and society. Instead of immediately calling the police, they take Rana to the hospital. The question then becomes: is it worth it to go to the police? Rana would have to relive the trauma she faced and potentially suffer public embarrassment. The desire to reduce the pain she has to go through directly conflicts with what is best for catching the criminal.

Rana’s emotional well-being becomes a focal point of the film.

The issue of justice is even more murky. Emad, using personal items left by the attacker, decides he will find him on his own. But to what end? How will he know who actually committed the crime and even if he is able to find the culprit, what will he do? Take him to the authorities or handle the situation on his own? What punishment will fit the crime and would any punishment actually help Rana? The movie confronts these issues as we see the couple’s opposing ideas. Emad wants retribution for Rana but Rana wants to move on and put this behind her more than anything else. As with all Farhadi films, neither character is favored and each position is shown to be flawed. There are no simple choices here, only alternative trade-offs.

Farhadi’s choice to build his film around the famous play has mixed results. Death of a Salesman is a clear classic, but the parallels the director tries to draw between Emad and Rana and Willy and Linda are too forced and too weak to justify the play’s emphasis. Willy’s self-destruction in the pursuit of money isn’t similar enough to Emad’s need for justice, nor is it different enough to create an insightful comparison. The play itself is also shown far more than it needed to be. Perhaps this was done to introduce some variety into the film’s settings. The stage is well shot and expertly lit, but the additional location doesn’t provide much value. Most of Farhadi’s films take place in one or two middle class apartments and it has never been an issue in the past. His morally ambiguous plotting remains enticing, but Farhadi’s decision to rope in an unnecessary element and give it a substantial amount of screen time causes his latest feature to fall short of its otherwise high potential.

4/5 stars.

A Cure for Wellness (2017)

After having spent the better part of the last fifteen years toiling away at mediocre to bad tentpole releases, Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) is back with something decidedly niche in its appeal. Dane DeHaan (Chronicle) plays Lockhart, a young, ruthlessly ambitious Wall Street executive tasked by his bosses to retrieve a member of their board who left to a “wellness center” in the Swiss Alps. Similar to Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, this is a health facility where something is amiss. As Lockhart first enters the area the movie seems to be headed towards similar territory. Yet, unlike that film, A Cure for Wellness isn’t built around a cheap twist. Lockhart’s first questions are “What do they cure here?” and “Why do people stay?”, but as the film progresses those thoughts fade away when more sinister intentions become apparent. Each wing of the center appears ominous and it’s unclear what lies behind the locked doors.

Like in the early films of George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg, Verbinski brings A-level talent and production to the trappings of a B-level story. The sets are immaculate and emphasize the excessively sterile interiors of the sanitarium. The glistening floors contrasted with the historical architecture hint at the danger within. Hallways are cavernous and the empty space only exacerbates the eeriness of the setting. The contraptions used by the physicians are deliberately retrograde, resembling early 20th century industrial equipment more than anything else. These are tools wrought from heavy iron, not the light stainless steel we are accustomed to in medicine. The weight communicates one thing: permanence. The facility appears to have changed little since its construction and anyone placed in these devices would have no chance of escaping from them, perhaps like the very center itself.

The beautiful, mazelike interiors appear inescapable.

The cinematography brings the menacing atmosphere to life. Bojan Bezelli, who collaborated with Verbinski on previous films, uses his camera to communicate the mental fragility of the subjects. Scenes are refracted through drinking glasses or reflected in the eyes of trophy animals. Even the condensation around a cup of water feels unsettling. He favors unhealthy shades of green that dominate the design of the facility. His unique angles and sickly colors give the film a ghostly beauty.

All of this makes A Cure for Wellness a rarity in modern cinema. A larger budgeted movie and an experienced team behind the camera shooting a twisted film. It’s part shock value and part arthouse, but with no expense spared. The premise draws influence from horror classics like Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face and body-horror king David Cronenberg. Credit has to be given to screenwriter Justin Haythe for developing an original story that moves beyond its inspirations into unnerving territory. As the more perverted elements are revealed, some audience members will be repulsed, but the rest will be captivated. The enigma of the sanitarium grows into an intriguing allure: how deep does the depravity go? To answer that question would be a great injustice to the filmmakers, but suffice it to say that despite some of the reactions it is sure to elicit, the plot, while perhaps overlong, rarely becomes gratuitous.  Any onscreen displays are only to support the central mystery. Verbinski and his team have elevated a schlock setup into something gorgeous, original, and satisfyingly deranged.

4/5 stars.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

When the first John Wick came out the consensus reaction was “Keanu Reeves is in a good movie?”. This time it should be “Keanu Reeves is in a good sequel???”. After killing his way through hordes of gangsters and their security guards to avenge the death of his puppy in the first film, John Wick: Chapter 2 opens with Wick violently taking back his beloved car. He returns home planning on resuming his retirement only to be greeted by a former colleague. An Italian gangster, Silvio D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), wants a debt repaid. Years ago, in order to complete his final task for retirement, Wick swore a blood oath in exchange for help. Now D’Antonio wants him to kill someone to return the favor. Bound by the laws of their society, Wick has to comply which causes a fallout and leads to a $7 million bounty being placed on his head.

The film is surprisingly slow to begin. The explanation of the plot is somewhat force-fed to the audience and is a blatantly retroactive addition to his story made to fuel the sequel the filmmakers never expected to have the chance to make. Even after the setup is made clear, Wick spends what feels like an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out if he can get out of his oath. The actual running time of this section may not be long, but it certainly felt that way. Fortunately, after he decides to take the job, the film quickly kicks into high gear and never slows down.

A gorgeous movie filled with unique settings and vibrant colors.

John Wick: Chapter 2 may be the best adaptation of the Hitman video game series ever made (let’s ignore the two official adaptations, everyone else has). As John has to take out a target or escape from other criminals trying to do the same to him, the film, like the games, always emphasizes the scale of its settings. John wades through a crowded concert, sneaks through a busy subway station, and even nonchalantly strolls through a building while exchanging fire from suppressed pistols without alerting the regular people around him. Imagine the scale of the club scene from the original carried into almost every encounter. This allows the scenarios to continually feel fresh and keeps the tension high, despite the fact they are on paper very similar. The best comparison is The Raid 2, another sequel to a great action film that uses its increased budget to bolster the scope of its violence.

The frequent scuffles may stretch belief, but they are endlessly entertaining. Wick uses his trademark “gun-fu” as he melees and headshots his way through any opposition. Director Chad Stahelski’s background as a stuntman and stunt coordinator shows as combat is flawlessly executed. Reeves makes for an imposing presence and even the ridiculous body count seems acceptable. Wick’s nickname of the boogeyman is fully earned as his methodical precision trumps his opponents. The best part of Reeves’s performance is not that he is believable during the action, but that he also adds personality to Wick’s fighting. Wick isn’t Arnold Schwarzenegger holding a minigun and happily dishing out bullets. No, he is the master fighter who is weary of his profession. Wick’s desire to escape his trade is palpable as he sighs and wipes his brow after each brawl. John Wick: Chapter 2 is the chaotic, beautifully choreographed violence we’ve all been waiting for. For the sake of action movie fans everywhere, let’s hope he stays out of retirement long enough for a third movie.

4/5 stars.