Orange Wednesday: John Wick – Chapter 2, Justice League vs The Fatal Five and Donkeyote

Donkeyote

Every Wednesday, TMINE reviews two movies and infringes a former mobile phone company’s trademarked marketing gimmick

Time prevented me from doing Orange Wednesday last week, so to make up for it, this week, TMINE will be reviewing not two, but three movies:

  • John Wick – Chapter 2 (2017): In which Keanu Reeves reprises his role as terrifying hitman John Wick and acts with Laurence Fishburne for the first time since The Matrix trilogy
  • Justice League vs The Fatal Five (2019): animated quasi-follow-up to the original Justice League Unlimited series that sees various members of the Justice League fighting villains from the future
  • Donkeyote (2017): documentary in which an old man from a southern Spanish village decides to trek across the US’s ‘Trail of Tears’, accompanied by two animal companions. Guess what at least one of them is.

Now that’s a special offer, hey?

Keanu Reeves in John Wick - Chapter 2
Keanu Reeves in John Wick – Chapter 2

John Wick – Chapter 2 (2017)

Following on just four days after the original, Chapter 2 of the John Wick series sees our formerly retired hitman just about to retire again, when a marker is called in by crime lord Riccardo Scamarcio. By the arcane rules of the brotherhood of professional assassins, Wick has no choice but to take on the assignment and assassinate the target. However, that soon attracts the attention of other assassins…

Written and directed by the same team as the original John Wick, John Wick – Chapter 2 has many of the same traits as the first movie, but has taken on board that film’s popularity so leaves everything far more open-ended than the first one did (Chapter 3 is being released this year). In particular, there’s the same stylised arbitrary system of hitman rules, incarnated in Lance Reddick, Ian McShane and The Continental Hotel; there’s also the same, equally stylised yet also realistic fight choreography.

However, the action shifts to Rome for the most part and brings in the likes of Common as a rival hitman and forthcoming Batwoman Ruby Rose as a deaf, ASL-signing hitwoman. We also have mini-reunions for our Keanu, as his Swedish Dicks co-star Peter Stormare puts in an appearance at the beginning and Morpheus himself (Laurence Fishburne) shows up as a New York crime lord.

John Wick – Chapter 2 has a relatively simple plot: John Wick goes back to work, does his job, then tries to kill his employer before his employer kills him. To augment that, director Chad Stahelski deploys a lot of tricks. Sometimes, there’s comedy, such as when our Keanu goes shopping in Rome for weapons and gets ‘sommelier’ Peter Serafinowicz to equip him with guns. Sometimes, the fight scenes feel more like a first-person shooter, with Keanu picking up strategically placed guns littered around the place like he’s levelling up.

The gun action is a combination of the realistic, with the utterly unrealistic. It’s all very efficient and fast, but the baddies are all terrible shots and when they actually do manage to hit our Keanu, he has a bulletproof suit the lapels of which he just has to hold up and hide behind to protect himself from 9mm rounds at close range. Not sure whether everyone’s using Glaser Safety Slugs or not, but no one seems that bothered about firing rounds at close range in the middle of crowds, either, so maybe bullets just aren’t that powerful in the John Wick universe.

The martial arts are personally interesting to me. There are, of course, thousands of different martial arts styles around the world and every movie that features martial arts usually features a different one, in part to avoid looking like other movies, but also because there are fashions in such things. That means it can be quite rare, if you do a martial art, to see your martial art on-screen.

So it was quite odd to watch John Wick – Chapter 2 and to not only be able to name every single move but to actually have done them all at some point. Barring the original John Wick, I’ve not had that feeling since Under Siege 2 (1995), a mere 24 years ago, so I confidently expect it to happen again in 2043.

Anyway, it probably made me even nit-pickier than normal since although the techniques were all beautiful done (Keanu did about 95% of the stunts himself, so kudos to him), I did spend quite some time thinking, “A sacrifice throw? With multiple attackers around? I don’t think so”, “Oh! No! Never throw someone when they’re holding a knife!” and all the other things that were drilled into me for 14 years or so.

The other problem with the fight choreography is that Stahelski has a habit of running our Keanu through gauntlets of attackers. Which is fine, but the next attacker is always positioned somewhere to the right of or behind the camera, so as soon as Keanu finishes off one, the camera pans rights and suddenly reveals there’s another assailant. You sit there wondering why the bloke’s just been standing there, watching everything happening, rather than wading in to help out.

I was expecting John Wick – Chapter 2 to be a poor man’s cousin to the original, going merely by the law of diminishing returns. However, I enjoyed it as much as the original, if not more so, and the lack of a ‘fridging‘ McGuffin to get the action going was very welcome. I could have done with more Lance Reddick (‘African’ accent and all) and Ian McShane, and a fight between Fishburne and Reeves would have been wonderful (we all know Fishburne’s still up to the job), but you can’t have everything, I guess.

Looking forward to Chapter 3 now!

Justice League vs The Fatal Five (2019)

DC Animated Universe movie in which three villains from the future return to the present to rescue two of their number and must both fight and take advantage of the Justice League to do so.

So far, so “pretty much every Justice League script”. However, the movie’s ostensible hook is that it’s basically a continuation of the much-loved animated series of the 2000s, Justice League Unlimited. As well as recreating that show’s animation style, it also reunites the Trinity’s voice artists: George Newbern, Kevin Conroy and Susan Eisenberg.

Unfortunately, as with “pretty much every Justice League animated movie” these days, the focus isn’t on the main characters of the League themselves, but on the guest characters – in this case, it’s basically a Jessica Cruz, Starboy and Miss Martian piece, with a lot of the action also dedicated to Mr Terrific. That leaves precious little time to the Trinity themselves, particularly Wonder Woman, who don’t exactly get to put their best foot forward when they do appear. Although Batman gets a few nice lines, including one about Skeletor.

On the one hand, a nice nod to diversity, on the other, not exactly what I signed up for. It’s fine for what it is, with more comedy than is usual in most DC films these days, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it unless you’re an ultra fan.

Donkeyote

Donkeyote (2017)

Scottish-produced documentary about director Chico Pereira’s 73-year-old uncle, Manuel (Manolo) Molera Aparicio, who lives in a village in southern Spain. Being a manly man, when Pereira invites him over to the US, Aparicio agrees but decides he’s going to follow the ‘the Trail of Tears’, the westward route on which more than 20,000 members of the Cherokee Nation were forced to walk as part of a violent forced removal from their ancestral homelands in 1830.

Aparicio also insists that he’s going to take his constant companions with him: his mischievous dog Zafrana and his loyal and intrepid donkey Gorrión.

The film deploys all manner of genre techniques to tell its story, which varies from simple character piece through to a Spanish variant of David Lynch’s The Straight Story. We start off in dialogue-less territory with Aparicio and the animals in their homeland working the land. Then we see the kind of man Aparicio is with people, such as when he’s telling stories to local SEN kids (with the help of Gorrión). Then we have more comedy, as we see him announcing his decision to his womenfolk, learning English over the Internet and trying to get travel agents to book him a trip to the US that also includes a donkey and a dog.

Then, of course, we eventually end up in the US (otherwise there’d be no film) and we follow the party on their walk, where things take on overtones of the Western.

As the name suggests, this is ultimately an exploration of occasionally bonkers masculinity in Spanish culture, particularly in older age. But it also correctly suggests that the true star of the movie is Gorrión, a rather elegant, poised beast, with surprising smartness and a tendency to undermine Aparicio’s machismo – usually by removing his hat.

It’s not hugely engrossing and I imagine the director’s closeness to his subject robbed him of a sufficiently independent eye for what worked and what didn’t. Nevertheless, if you love donkeys at least, you’re in for a treat.

Advertisements