By Justyn Cortes
I am going to be a total hipster and say that I loved the first movie before it became cool. LET IT BE NOTED! (haha. jk.) John Wick completely flew under the radar when it was first released in 2014 and developed a fanbase through good word of mouth (a la films like Kickass, Scott Pilgrim and The Kingsman). I was certainly cautiously optimistic considering Keanu Reeves was not really turning out gems like The Day The Earth Stood Still, Street Kings, and 47 Ronin, but I have always had a soft spot for this age-less actor. Plus, when I saw that the stunt team behind The Matrix, 300, The Hungers Games and V for Vendetta was involved, I knew at the very least the action would be exceptional. I was not wrong.
I was completely blown away by John Wick. It was brilliantly crafted because although the premise was extremely overused -- an assassin seeking revenge -- the directors made this film stand apart by using stunning cinematography that followed a film noir style; which uses harsh shadows and bright light to evoke an alluring visual dichotomy of color. What made this film unique is that it used neon lights rather than white light to recreate this style. Also, the way the action scenes were shot were extraordinary. Keanu did the majority of his own stunts and trained for months to prepare for the role. In doing so, the camera did not have to cut away constantly during fight scenes to substitute a stunt double (like in Jason Bourne movies). The camera held steadily on Keanu and it allowed the audience to appreciate the beauty and savagery of the fight choreography. These two components made the first John Wick an action film classic.
John Wick: Chapter 2 could have easily copied the formula of the first film -- have another dog die and another Russian mobster to kill, but it exceeded all expectations to create what many will consider an instant classic.
PROS - If you like martial arts films, this film delivers on every mark. The sequel has more intricate, more elaborate, and more violent fights (#headshotsfordays) and each battle John Wick faces raises the stakes as he progresses through the story. This ambitious sequel expands the John Wick/assassin universe and instead of focusing on another isolated incident like in the first movie, John Wick: Chapter 2 shows the ramifications of Wick's retaliation. It sets in motion the conflict that will make John Wick a target twice more: Once for refusing to pay a debt to a fellow assassin and twice, when John executes his mission and is marked for termination. The story is bolder and more concise and delves deeper into the utterly fascinating society of the assassin order. The writer, Derek Kolstad, gives you just enough information to peak your interest, but does not inundate you with too much exposition or character backstory. He leaves a mystique amongst many of assassins John encounters throughout the movie.
CONS - Although I think this is a near perfect action flick, I was a little disappointed that the two big baddies, Cassian (Common) and Ares (Ruby Rose) posed a threat but nothing more. While my eyes jumped wide when these villains performed a move that got the best of John, Wick would eventually gain the advantage and escape death. I think the director did this to show John is an unstoppable force of nature, but he IS human and the stakes never grew to the point where I felt the protagonist was doomed.
Again, the con critique is a nitpick and I fully encourage anyone to pay full price for this film. It will make you happy that action films like this can still be made and that Keanu is STILL the man!
Rating: REEL GOOD!
By Justyn Cortes
When I first heard this film was in development, I was instantly skeptical. Although I had loved The Lego Movie, it seemed that this film was an unnecessary spin-off solely created to market toys to kids while cashing off the comic book movie phenomenon featuring arguably the most renowned American pop culture superhero icon. The Lego Movie was an unforeseen jewel in 2014 and I am relieved to say Warner Animation Group has done it again with The Lego Batman Movie!
PROS - This film has too much fan service to count and constantly makes references about the Caped Crusader in all of his previous iterations, from Adam West's 1966 Batman to 2016's Batman v. Superman; even the racist 1940's Batman serials got a shout-out (haha). If you are a fan of this character, you will find your inner-child gleaming with joy while the 'adult-ish' part of you steadily laughs throughout the movie at all the tongue-in-cheek jokes. I personally tip my cap to the writers, Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, and John Whittington as well as director Chris McKay for honoring one of my favorite comic book characters.
CONS - Part of what made The Lego Movie so refreshing is that: 1. It had not been done before as a studio animated feature, so the story's characters and outcomes were new and 2. It had powerful themes of defying strict adherence to societal rules that can stiffen creativity AND that we are all special and unique in our own way. It defied the 'Savior' formula (a la The Matrix, Man of Steel, The Last Airbender, etc.) and sugar-coated an important message. The Lego Batman movie did not achieve this unfortunately. It is a very linear story about an arrogant yet charming Batman who crusades on his mission alone because he is afraid of getting too close to anyone; which is all caused by trauma he suffered from his parents' murder. I definitely have not seen that before! #sarcasm. While this is a deep complexity of this character, it has been done over and over and over again. The theme was that of most animated movies: Love your family and embrace those that want to help you. It is a touching theme but a familiar one nonetheless.
My con critique is definitely a nitpick, but that is because there is not much else to criticize about this film. Although its story is simple and its theme is trite, the conflicts and sub-conflicts were remarkably sophisticated for a kids movie; with Batman facing an existential crisis of what to do once there are no more super-villains and does his legacy amount to anything if he cannot share or bestow it with anyone? This is a great film and I am actually looking forward to Lego movies now. Who would have thunk?
Rating: REEL GOOD!
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