Peek A Boo, I See You (Ghost In The Shell (1995) review)

Deus ex machina are supposed to reveal truths of the world, not leave it covered in darkness. Which is why this film is rather prophetic, and should probably be in the queue for monthly consumption, at a minimum.

 

Ghost In The Shell (1995)

Cast: Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Otsuka, Koichi Yamadera, Yutaka Nakano, Tamio Oki, Tessho Genda
Director: Mamoru Oshii
re-released on blu-ray Sep 23, 2014
********* 9/10

IMDB: 8.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, Audience Score 89%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Mamoru Oshii is a Japanese director and screenwriter. He has directed a ton of anime films and television shows, including Urusei Yatsura, Red Spectacles, Ghost in the Shell, Avalon, and Patlabor 2: The Movie. His directorial style has often been detailed in how different it is to most films made in the United States, with visuals being the most important element to him, followed by story, and then characterizations.

The Wachowskis and James Cameron have been in awe of his work for decades, especially with Ghost in the Shell, so I thought it fitting to time my review of the original film with the release of the live-action remake. Because, well, it’s even more relevant today than it was 20+ years ago.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

In 2029, with the advance of cybernetic technology, the human body can be “augmented” or even completely replaced with cybernetic parts. Another significant achievement is the cyberbrain, a mechanical casing for the human brain that allows access to the Internet and other networks. An often-mentioned term is “ghost”, referring to the consciousness inhabiting the body (the “shell”).

Major Motoko Kusanagi (Atsuko Tanaka) is an assault-team leader for the Public Security Section 9 of “New Port City” in Japan. Following a request from Nakamura (Tessho Genda), chief of Section 6, she successfully assassinates a diplomat of a foreign country to prevent a programmer named Daita (Mitsuru Miyamoto) from defecting.

The Foreign Minister’s interpreter is ghost-hacked, presumably to assassinate VIPs in an upcoming meeting. Believing the perpetrator is the mysterious Puppet Master (Iemasa Kayumi), Kusanagi’s team follows the traced telephone calls that sent the virus. After a chase, they capture a garbage man and a thug. However, both are only ghost-hacked individuals with no clue about the Puppet Master. The investigation again comes to a dead end.

Megatech Body, a “shell” manufacturer with suspected close ties to the government, is hacked and assembles a cybernetic body. The body escapes but is hit by a truck. As Section 9 examines the body, they find a human “ghost” inside its computer brain. Unexpectedly, Nakamura arrives to reclaim the body. He claims that the “ghost” inside the brain is the Puppet Master himself, lured into the body by Section 6. The body reactivates itself, claims to be a sentient being and requests political asylum. After the Puppet Master initiates a brief argument about what constitutes a human, a camouflaged agent accompanying Nakamura starts a diversion and gets away with the body.

Having suspected foul play, Kusanagi’s team is prepared and immediately pursues the agent. Meanwhile, Section 9 researches “Project 2501,” mentioned earlier by the Puppet Master, and finds a connection with Daita, whom Section 6 tries to keep from defecting the country. Facing the discovered information, Daisuke Aramaki (Tamio Oki), chief of Section 9, concludes that Section 6 created the Puppet Master itself for various political purposes. This is why Section 6 is desperately trying to reclaim the body.

Kusanagi follows the car carrying the body to an abandoned building. It is protected by a large walking tank. Anxious to face the Puppet Master’s ghost, Kusanagi engages the tank without backup and is nearly killed. Her partner Batou (Akio Otsuka) arrives in time to save her, and helps connect her brain to the Puppet Master’s.

The Puppet Master explains to Kusanagi that he was created by Section 6. While wandering various networks, he became sentient and began to contemplate his existence. Deciding the essence of humanity is reproduction and mortality, he wants to exist within a physical brain that will eventually die. As he could not escape section 6’s network, he had to download himself into a cybernetic body. Having interacted with Kusanagi (without her knowledge), he believes she is also questioning her humanity, and they have a lot in common. He proposed merging their ghosts, in return, Kusanagi would gain all of his capabilities. Kusanagi agrees to the merge.

Snipers from Section 6 approach the building, intending to destroy the Puppet Master’s and Kusanagi’s brains to cover up Project 2501. The Puppet Master’s shell is destroyed, but Batou shields Kusanagi’s head in time to save her brain. As Section 9 closes in on the site, the snipers retreat.

“Kusanagi” wakes up in a new cyborg child body in Batou’s safehouse. She tells Batou that the entity within her body is neither Kusanagi nor the Puppet Master, but a combination of both. She promises Batou they will meet again, leaves the house and wonders where to go next.

For me, it’s tough not to watch this movie and be reminded of The Matrix. I had the unfortunate experience of watching that movie a great many years before this classic, and the repeated viewings of The Matrix trilogy over the years haven’t helped either. And so, the story is a familiar one, exploring self-identity as we relate to machines in a time when humans and machines have become interchangeable. God praise the internet, amirite? And the timeline is not that far away either, in both the film and reality.

Consciousness, humanity, autonomy, empathy, and mortality are all explored in a relatively short hour and twenty-some minutes. In a time when international corporations have basically done away with national identity too.The ghost in the shell is literally a play on the wandering consciousness that inhabits the meaty husk, and it wants to know if we hear it’s voice.

Pros: Visually compelling and with a message which has allowed it to age far better then films like Blade Runner or Total Recall, Ghost in the Shell is violent, emotional, and poetic to experience.

Cons: The individual characters are difficult to warm up to, but it might just be all of the robot parts they have imbedded.

Runtime: 1 hour 23 minutes

Points of Interest: Motoko’s eye are intentionally animated to not blink very often, giving her a feel of a doll, rather then a human. The title of the manga which inspired the film is written as an homage to the Arthur Koestler work, The Ghost in the Machine.

theories Summarized

So is the 2017 film better than the 1995 one? I’d like to think not, and not for the obvious whitewashing allusions that have been to popular on the internet over the past year or so. In fact, Mamoru Oshii has gone on record to state that the Major may or may not be Japanese, but regardless of her current appearance, her name and body have changed numerous times, and so it is in fact acceptable to have Scarlett Johansson in that role.

But I think the problem is that the anime far better depicts the story at hand, and that the visuals are far more compelling with their mix of traditional drawing and CGI. The Matrix will never be the same for me. And that’s no theory.

And speaking of things that The Matrix tried to wreak… Andre and I have a new Watch Culture video up for your viewing pleasure. Please tell us if you agree that Equilibrium is worth a watch, and if not, your comments are appreciated.

Tim!

Hoo Rah (Kong: Skull Island review)

We need a king to protect us from the evils humanity, as well as the darkness of jungle. That much should be obvious by now.

 

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
re-released on blu-ray July 18, 2017
******** 8/10

IMDB: 6.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%, Audience Score 71%
The Guardian: n/a

Jordan Vogt-Roberts is an American director and screenwriter. His directorial debut came with The Kings of Summer, a coming of age comedy that was released in 2013. So a bit of an odd twist that he followed it up with this action gem, and that he will also direct the future Metal Gear Solid movie. But who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? That’s right, only The Shadow knows, also there is a surprising amount of comedy to be had here… and so I move on.

Kong: Skull Island is the second monster film in the new MonsterVerse franchise that Legendary Pictures started down the path with in 2014’s Godzilla. There are two more monster movies lined up in the next few years, another Godzilla movie which will introduce Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah, and the much anticipated Godzilla vs Kong, expected to debut in 2020.

But enough about that, let’s get into the jungle and discuss the surprisingly entertaining Kong: Skull Island. One that both audiences and critics agreed upon!

Courtesy of Wikipedia

After a dog fight, in the midst of World War II, two fighter pilots parachute to an island, and then engage in close combat, but the fight is interrupted by a behemoth ape known as Kong.

Fast forward to 1973, government agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) hires former British SAS Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a skilled tracker, to guide an expedition to map out an island known as Skull Island. Escorted by a Vietnam War helicopter squadron led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson, the group is joined by photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). Packard’s men begin the operation by dropping explosives developed by seismologist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) to map out the island. However, the air unit is attacked by Kong, who kills a number of military personnel and scatters the survivors  into two groups across the island.

After being confronted by Packard, Randa reveals his affiliation to the secret government organization Monarch, which was trying to prove the existence of monsters and determine their threat to humanity. The other survivors, including Conrad and Weaver, try to get to a rendezvous point to meet a resupply team arriving in three days’ time. They encounter the local Iwi natives and an older Marlow (John C. Reilly). He reveals that Kong is the island’s guardian, worshiped as a god by the natives for protecting the island’s inhabitants from many predators, including reptilian underground monsters dubbed “Skullcrawlers”. They have killed Kong’s ancestors, leaving him as the last of his kind.

Packard’s group begins making their way to Chapman, one of the survivors, whose helicopter crash-landed elsewhere. Meanwhile, Chapman is ambushed and eaten by a Skullcrawler. Conrad’s group helps Marlow complete a boat built from parts scavenged from the original downed planes. They regroup with Packard, who insists on searching for Chapman, though his true objective is to find and kill Kong.

Marlow leads the two groups to a mass grave littered with the bones of Kong’s kind. A Skullcrawler attacks the group, spitting up Chapmans dogtags and killing Randa and many soldiers. Learning about Chapman’s death, a vengeful Packard blames Kong for the deaths of his men and becomes determined to kill him. The two groups part ways, with Conrad and Weaver finally encountering Kong up-close, and resolve to save him.

Packard’s group triggers napalm explosions to lure him in. And it works. Conrad’s group arrives and persuades the other soldiers to spare Kong, but Packard refuses to stand down. Then, a massive Skullcrawler emerges from the lake, and Packard is crushed to death by a recovering Kong. The Skullcrawler overpowers Kong at first and chases the humans, but Kong rips it up. Kong also saves Weaver from drowning, as she had been knocked into the water during the fight, and allows the survivors to leave the island.

During the credits, Marlow returns home, reuniting with his wife, meeting his son for the first time, and watching a Chicago Cubs game on television. Post-credits reveal ancient drawings of Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah, and even a fight between Godzilla and Ghidorah.

With just the right mix of action, over-the-top deaths, and seemingly unintentional comedy, Kong: Skull Island is an homage to the B grade monster movies of the past. You want to see Kong jump-punch a helicopter, and he does it. It’s even rewarding to watch all of the different creatures destroying the soldiers as they traverse the island.

What starts out as a slow ride with very little in the way of plot, speeds up in the second act, and we finally get a great story along with some silly characterizations that serve as filler for the the king.

Pros: Kong looks amazing and is incredible as a Lovecraftian type deity. John C. Reilly helps ground the story with his man-out-of-time bit. The CGI is well done too.

Cons: Almost all of the actors are mismanaged here, with Brie Larson coming off confused, Samuel L. Jackson feeling stiff, and Tom Hiddleston having nothing to do.

Runtime: 1 hour 56 minutes

Points of Interest: Vogt-Roberts was inspired by video games to include many POV shots of guns being fired, even taking inspiration from Resident Evil to show a helicopter hitting the ground. Marlow and Conrad are references to Joseph Conrads book, Heart of Darkness. As well as Apocalypse Now being a thematic and visual inspiration.

I think it needs to be emphasized that this is not a kind and compassionate Kong, he is fighter, tough as nails and only accepting of humans upon them proving themselves to him. The allusions to Heart of Darkness are welcome, and the shift away from the the three other adaptations is satisfying too. This is excellent popcorn fare.

theories Summarized

Despite the way too large ensemble cast, and the silliness that is needed to get us to Skull Island in the first place, this movie works well in so many ways. And thankfully John C. Reilly is able to serve a good role as something of a protagonist, despite such a small character arc. I think after the disappointing Godzilla remake, Legendary are finally on the right track.

But that’s not all the theories for today, I’ve got another Watch Culture episode to share too.

Direct quote from André “It’s cool in this era too, man,” which let’s you know that Luc Besson did good with this movie from the 1990s. But you should just watch the episode, because this episode is full of gold.

Tim!

Double Agent (Teen Titans: The Judas Contract review)

Animated comic book movies have been around for decades at this point, but I think it’s high time we recognize the efforts of one studio in particular who has consistently show up to play ball.

 

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (2017)

Cast: Stuart Allan, Jake T. Austin, Taissa Farmiga, Sean Maher, Christina Ricci, Brandon Soo Hoo, Kari Wahlgren, Miguel Ferrer
Director: Sam Liu
re-released on blu-ray April 18, 2017
******** 8/10

IMDB: 7.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%, Audience Score 71%
The Guardian: n/a

I’ve written about Sam Liu before. He also directed the Batman: The Killing Joke movie which I reviewed last summer, so in order to save some time, I’m going to dive right into the plot summary and then tell you what I think about this most recent DC original animated film.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Five years ago, the original Teen Titans (consisting of Dick Grayson as Robin, Speedy, Kid Flash, Beast Boyand Bumblebee) rescue Princess Starfire of planet Tamaran from her captors sent by her evil older sister Blackfire who had staged a coup and forcibly took the throne. As she is no longer able to return to her world, the Titans offer her a home on Earth as one of them.

In the present, Dick Grayson (now called Nightwing) rejoins the Teen Titans to track down a terrorist cult led by Brother Blood who plans on capturing the team to absorb each of their unique abilities with a machine that he has tested on Jericho (whom his assistant and lover Mother Mayhem quickly shoots afterwards). Brother Blood hires the mercenary Deathstroke to deliver the Titans to him, which he obliges to do for both the money and get revenge on Damian Wayne for foiling his evil plans a few years ago and replacing him as Ra’s al Ghul’s heir before Damian turned against the League of Assassins. Deathstroke monitors the Titans through his double agent Terra, who joined the team a year prior and whom he rescued after her parents turned their whole village against her and tortured her. When Damian grows suspicious of Terra’s behavior and starts tracking her, he is captured by her and Deathstroke, thus revealing her as a spy to Damian.

Terra acts cold and distant towards the otheTitans despite their welcoming attitude, but eventually warms up to them. During the night celebrating her one-year anniversary with the Titans, she shares a tender moment with Beast Boy and kisses him. The next day, Deathstroke kidnaps Blue Beetle at the soup kitchen he works at, Beast Boy at a convention where he thought he would do a podcast with filmmaker Kevin Smith, and Starfire at the apartment shared by her and Nightwing. Dick discovers what happened to the otheTitans and is attacked by Deathstroke. He manages to escape by faking his own death, while Terra captures Raven in Titans‘ Tower.

Deathstroke and Terra bring the Titans to Brother Blood, but since the machine cannot operate properly without a fifth Titan (as Slade had failed to capture Nightwing), Slade hesitantly offers him Terra instead. Brother Blood starts draining the Titans of their powers and ascends to godlike status, but they are rescued by Nightwing. Nightwing and Robin fight Deathstroke, while the rest take on Brother Blood, who has absorbed all of their powers. The two villains are stopped by the intervention of Terra, who is thoroughly hurt and enraged at Slade for his betrayal. Brother Blood is depowered by Raven unleashing her inner fury as a demon and killed by Mother Mayhem, while Deathstroke is buried underneath multiple rocks thrown by Terra. Too ashamed to face her former allies after betraying their trust, Terra decides to bring down the entire area. Beast Boy attempts to assist Terra in escaping the crumbling fortress, but Terra pushes him back and is buried underneath multiple layers of rubble. Beast Boy digs her up, and she dies in his arms.

In the epilogue, Beast Boy goes on Kevin Smith’s podcast and talks about the Titans with the host. He mentions that the team has a “wonderful new member” and that he will always miss Terra.

In a post-credits scene, Jericho is shown to have survived the bullet Mother Mayhem shot at him earlier.

I’ll just come right out and say that this movie is refreshing to watch. There are complex adult relationships portrayed on the screen, some well placed profanity, and while the violence doesn’t overwhelm, it is decidedly more graphic then your average PG-13 fare. Featuring an ensemble cast, and then spending time with each character was a wise movie on the part of DC, because each of characters is developed in such a way that they become more compelling then any live-action counterparts we’ve seen thus far.

Starfire, Beast Boy, Blue Beetle, and Deathstroke all have great arcs, and it’s very satisfying to watch Terra meet her end as the revealed Judas of the team.

Pros: The animation, pacing, and storytelling are all top-notch, but as already mentioned, the relationships between characters, especially the romantic ones, are fascinating to watch. The Teens are all so dramatic and appealing to watch.

Cons: There is a decent amount of filler at the beginning of the film, with previous Titans on a mission and the meeting of Starfire. This flashback and the one of Terra’s home life seem out of place and very uncomfortable to watch, especially with the Deathstroke seduction scene. Also, Terra turns too quickly.

Runtime: 1 hour 24 minutes

Points of Interest: Adapted from a Teen Titans series from the 1980s, this story has also been adapted for the Teen Titans animated series of the early 2000s. Beast Boy appears on a podcast with Kevin Smith in the movie, in real life Kevin Smith is a huge comics fan, and has a particular affinity for Batman.

I think that overall the plot with Brother Blood, the contract with Deathstroke, and the hidden mole of Terra gave the movie the steam it needed to make it around the block. It should be celebrated for it’s adventurous and adult themes, even if Deathstroke and Terra have be really weird personal relationship in the background. The leadership tactics of Star Fire, versus old hat exercises from Nightwing.

theories Summarized

With over twenty movies in their catalogue at this point, DC has done an excellent job of adapting some of their best stories for home release, and this Teen Titans story is one of the better ones. Yes you can see a lot of the plot twists from a mile away, but it does such a good job of getting you there, that I think the journey really is the most important part in this case.

Speaking of twists, this week on Watch Culture, Andre and I give a recommendation on 2011’s Source Code, and I bet you’ll enjoy it. That said, I’m out of theories for now.

Tim!

Why Did Batman Cross The Road? Because We Were Sick of His Clucking (The LEGO Batman Movie review)

Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na nah. Just kidding. It’s like a 1000x yeah instead.

 

The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

Cast: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Zach Galifanakis, Jenny Slate
Director: Chris McKay
re-released on blu-ray June 13, 2017
********** 10/10

IMDB: 7.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%, Audience Score 81%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Chris McKay also know as Chris Taylor, is an American director and animator of film and television. Best known for his work directing and editing the shows Robot Chicken and Moral Orel, The LEGO Batman Movie is his first film. He is also set to direct a live-action Nightwing movie which has yet to be scheduled.

Having spent most of his early career involved in video production, McKay learned about editing and eventually landed an editing job with ShadowMachine, which allowed him the opportunity to work on what would become the hugely successful Robot Chicken stop motion animated sketch comedy show. Which led him to help co-direct animation for The Lego Movie and giving him the opportunity to direct the film of today’s focus.

A little flavour on the film

Taken from Wikipedia and edited down –

The Joker (Zach Galifanakis) has plans to destroy the city, then Batman (Will Arnett) hurts his arch-rival’s feelings by telling him he is not as important in his life as he thinks he is, leading Joker to seek the ultimate revenge on him.

During the city’s winter gala, which also celebrates the city’s new police commissioner, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), Bruce Wayne falls head over heels, only to be infuriated by Barbara’s plans to restructure the police to function without the need of Batman. Joker then crashes the party with all of Batman’s rogues gallery, and oddly enough surrenders, with the exception of Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate), who disappears during the confusion.

Suspicions now raised, Batman plans to steal Superman’s Phantom Zone Projector, a portal to a prison housing some of the most dangerous villains in the Lego multiverse.  Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) intervenes and involves Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), whom Bruce unwittingly adopted as his ward during the gala. After the heist, the pair break into Arkham Asylum and send Joker to the Phantom Zone, but Barbara locks up Batman and Robin for their reckless actions.

Harley steals back the project and frees Joker, with all the Phantom Zone villains in tow. Barbara has a change of heart realizing what has happened. She frees Batman and Robin, and along with a suited up Alfred, the four of them team up to stop Joker. When they meet one-on-one again, Joker confronts Batman, stating they are arch-rivals, but Batman baulks at it and Joker zaps him with the projector. In the Phantom Zone, Batman accepts that even he needs help, and makes a deal with the Zone’s gatekeeper, Phyllis (Ellie Kemper), to retrieve the villains so that he can stop the destruction of Gotham.

Joker intends to blow up the city’s Energy Facility, forcing the thin floor of the city apart and be destroyed, and so Batman assigns Barbara a Batgirl costume, and recruits the other villains Joker has left behind. It’s too little too late, and the bomb rips the city apart. Knowing this was his fault, Batman reluctantly convinces Joker that he is the true reason for being the hero he is, before they, their friends and allies, and the city’s inhabitants, chain-link themselves together and pull the plates back together, saving the city.

Phyllis decides that Batman can remain after seeing how much he had changed in order to save everyone. Batman then allows Joker and the rest of his rogues gallery to temporarily escape, with the confidence that whenever they return, they will be no match for his new alliance with Robin, Batgirl, and Alfred.

Now, what the synopsis I have provided doesn’t tell you is how self-referential and hilarious this movie is to experience.

It is at-once a biting satire of previous Batman franchise outings, teasing the ever-popular use of Bruce Wayne’s backstory as plot motivation, as well as directly addressing the eternal dance between The Joker and The Batman. And yeah, it’s great that The Batman wants to fight around, but The Joker wants him to commit to him as an arch-villain. And rightfully so, they’ve only been at it for over seventy years!

The zaniness of Lego also fits well with Batman’s wonderfully odd and sometimes embarrassing tacky history of stories, costumes and villains. Think Disco Batman, Eraser and Clock King. And yes, you get to see King Tut, Polka Dot Man and Egghead make appearances too.

Pros: It is surprisingly sophisticated in it’s exposure of Batman, how pop culture has appropriated him, and core issues we’ve all been thinking about for what seems like decades. Top it off with a smart bow, riddled with fun for kids, and this is a movie not to be taken for granted. Michael Cera is heartwarming as Robin.

Cons: It does become a bit difficult to swallow all of the bricks towards the end, surprisingly enough because the story works so well to disengage us from the kitsch of the format it’s presented in. And the happy Bat family moment feels a bit shoehorned.

Runtime: 1 hour 44 minutes

Points of Interest: In a blink and you’ll miss it moment, Batman references the 1989 movie when he says  “You want to get nuts? Let’s get nuts!” to the Joker. Billy Dee Williams voices Two-Face for the movie. He also portrayed Harvey Dent in the 1989 movie, but never got to play Two-Face in the third movie because Joel Schumacher recast Dent with Tommy Lee Jones.

I cannot say enough good things about this movie. It is so reinvigorating to see DC poke fun at The Batman for once. Acknowledging all of the missteps over the past few years, *cough* Suicide Squad, Batman V Superman, and Man of Steel *cough* it’s great for them to realize that Batman is their best character, but that people are sick of seeing the same old Bruce Wayne.

The LEGO Batman Movie gives the people something to look forward to. It’s fun, interesting, and even humanizes the Bat. Go Will Arnett go.

theories Summarized

Maybe it’s my fine art background or maybe it’s simply my love deconstructing and reconnecting the LEGO assemblages I made as a young boy, but this is exactly what postmodernism should have been doing with Batman in the 1990s, not making him a goof with big nipples, but a caricature worthy of dissection and primed for exploration.

That said, you should also check out this cool vid we did for episode three of Watch Culture!

Out of theories for now creative cuties, tune in tomorrow for some wisdom. Same Bat time, same Bat channel.

Tim!

Gun Kata (John Wick: Chapter 2 review)

I love the TV Tropes brand. It’s all about the collection of and education on popular culture, specifically as it relates to common figures of speech. The ones that best convey concepts that exist in various forms of media, like movies, or say, television.

Now for example, in action movies, it’s fairly common for guys to smash and girls to shoot things. But does this action movie fall prey to tropes? Or transcend them?

 

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Common, Claudia Gerini, Lance Reddick, Laurence Fishburne
Director: Chad Stahelski
re-released on blu-ray June 13, 2017
********** 10/10

IMDB: 7.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, Audience Score 87%
The Guardian: ***/*****

Chad Stahelski is an American stuntman and director. It wasn’t until fairly recently that he took up the reins and decided to direct a movie, starting with  the first John Wick, and now it’s sequel John Wick: Chapter 2. More importantly, Stahelski is famous for his relationship with Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, who died from a gunshot wound during the final days of filming for The Crow. Stahelski was a good friend, and agreed to replace Lee as a stunt double, even wearing prosthetics to look like Lee, so that the movie could be completed.

He is also currently working on Triple Threat, a movie which stars Tony Jaa, Tiger Chen and Iko Uwais. That said, I think with his well established history in film that Stahelski was more then prepared to take on the action genre, and so far, it’s been to his benefit.

In case you haven’t seen 2014’s John Wick, I recommend you go and do so, because there are massive spoilers ahead.

Taken from Wikipedia and edited down –

Mere days later for, former assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is at Abram Tarasov’s (Peter Stormare) chop shop looking for his car. He demolishes Tarasov’s men, but his car is damaged in the fight. He chooses to spare Tarasov as a peace offering, and heads home.

Aurelio (John Leguizamo) fixes the car, but John is visited by Italian crime lord Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio). We learn that John was able to retire with the help of D’Antonio, and that they have a blood oath which John is required to fulfill upon request. D’Antonio presents the medallion to demand services from John, but John refuses. In a fit of rage, D’Antonio decides to take a grenade launcher to John’s house.

Winston (Ian McShane) reminds John of the two rules of the underworld, and that by breaking the oath he would be marked for death. The other rule being that every assassin has amnesty in Winston’s hotel. John reluctantly agrees and accepts the proposal, which is to assassinate  D’Antonio’s sister (Claudia Gerini), the head of the criminal group called the  “High Table”, a council of high-level crime lords. D’Antonio sends Ares (Ruby Rose), his personal bodyguard, to surveil John.

John easily infiltrates Gianna’s compound and confronts her – Gianna instead chooses to commit suicide. While retreating, D’Antonio’s men flip on John, hoping to consolidate his newfound power. Gianna’s bodyguard Cassian (Common) learns what has happened and begins a relentless pursuit.  They land at Winston’s hotel, and stop their battle at per the rules. Cassian vows revenge.

D’Antonio then opens a $7 million  contract on John and he fights his way through the city, dispatching numerous hidden assassins. He even runs into Cassian again, and wins the fight, so he can make his way to underground crime lord The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), whose subordinates treat his injuries and guide him to D’Antonio’s location. After navigating a hall of mirrors, John forces D’Antonio back to the the Continental. But despite Winston’s warnings, John kills D’Antonio in the Continental dining room.

Winston unfortunately has to excommunicate John from the order, but gives him another marker and some time to plan his next move before doubling the contract and sending it out globally. This doesn’t phase John, who collects his dog and starts running across the city.

Oddly enough this movie manages to accomplish more then enough in the way to trope fulfillment and furnishing a thin plot to move the action ahead.

But where most action flick fall apart because of their ridiculous premise, John Wick embraces the odd and each element is considered within the framework of the already established world. We can suspend our disbelief because we don’t “really” know how the world of assassins works, but the action and dialogue are slick, allowing the most important motivation of John Wick’s revenge to shine throughout.

Pros: The rules of this world continue to be defined with great consideration and the lack of CGI create better entertainment then anything out there right now. The choreography, the cinematography, even Reeves in the role of John is deliberate.

Cons: Of course, the motivations of the first film are stronger and the action a little more frantic. This movie serves up a lot more of the same, and is a little long as a result. And then we introduce the problem of John as someone who is invincible, and with that Superman complex, a little less compelling.

Runtime: 2 hours 2 minutes

Points of Interest: Keanu Reeves is a talented martial artist, and performed almost all of the stunts himself, with the exceptions of the car crash and falling down stairs. Second time director Chad Stahelski was a stuntman in the Matrix Trilogy. Laurence Fishburne elude to their connections as co-stars of The Matrix Trilogy.

The first John Wick movie was artfully created and a sleeper hit of 2014. This movie is an excellent addition to the catalogue and another example that over-the-top budgets don’t always equal action success. The Fishburne cameo is a welcome addition and perfect demonstration of the skillful layering going in in this movie.

theories Summarized

I really enjoyed this film and I suspect that if you are an action movie fan, Keanu Reeves supporter and even interested in experiments in storytellling, then you won’t blink twice at picking this up. That said, I have to wonder where we can go from here, and hope that Stahelski can put a nice bow on these films after the third is completed. John Wick: Chapter 2 appears to be mindless fun, but it has more then enough world-building to make stand out as one of the top five movies of 2017.

Also, in case you’re looking for another movie recommendation, the latest and greatest Watch Culture vid is now up!

No more theories from me friends, I’m tapped out for the now. But come back tomorrow for some wisdom.

Tim!