“John Wick Chapter 2”
2 hours, 2 minutes
“The Lego Batman Movie”
1 hour, 44 minutes
As I write this, it’s Valentine’s Day, and this year, Hollywood has delivered a particularly sweet box of chocolates. This week we saw the debut of two great movies, and I’m not talking about “50 Shades Darker.” One for kids, and one decidedly not, both of the movies I saw this week were prime examples of what happens when a movie delivers exactly what it promises.
The first film I saw was “John Wick: Chapter 2,” the sequel to the surprisingly entertaining 2014 smash hit, “John Wick.” The film follows the action of the first film, wherein ex-hitman John Wick completely decimates an entire chapter of the Russian mafia in New York in retaliation for the murder of his puppy.
Yes, it sounds silly, but what the filmmakers were able to do with this film was pretty remarkable. They created a complex underground society complete with its own infrastructure and regulations and used that as a framework for an action shoot-‘em-up with an unusually high body count.
“Chapter 2” ups the ante. Coming on the heels of the last film, Wick must now retrieve his stolen car, which makes for an explosive opening scene. I was reminded of the opening for “Lethal Weapon 2,” one of the most propulsive action movies of all time, which begins smack in the middle of a car chase.
Once John’s initial task is done, he returns home, presumably to retire once more. Ah, but once you’re back in, you’re back in. In short order there is a knock at the door and John Wick finds himself fully immersed in the world he thought he’d left behind, drowning in a sea of bodies.
A marker has been called in, and according to the rigid code of the world Wick operates in, there is no chance of turning down that request. Wick is called to assassinate a member of the high council, though doing so will put him in a world of hurt. Soon there’s a price on his head and every able-bodied assassin is looking to cash in. But the power brokers need to use caution. Push him too far, and John Wick will go from the hunted to the hunter.
“John Wick: Chapter 2” is that rare movie that delivers exactly what the audience wants without feeling repetitive or pandering. Keanu Reeves, in yet another career resurgence, and co. double down on the violence, but also on the esoteric details of the fascinating world they’ve created. Pulling back the curtain on the operations at “The Continental” a vast, independent assassin service bureau reveals a timeless and cool bureaucracy. Calls are handled by a switchboard right out of the 1930s, manned by picture-perfect blonde 1950s secretarial pool, typing up orders on 1980s green screen computers — their only connection to the 21st century are the tattoos covering their arms and necks.
“John Wick” exists in a timeless, somehow both generic and incredibly specific space. There is intense thought behind the wanton violence and gunplay which sets this apart from the dime-a-dozen straight to video action genre it emulates. I loved “John Wick,” and “Chapter 2” has done nothing to lessen that affection.
“The LEGO Movie” was that rarest of Hollywood creations — a surprise. There was no reason that that movie should have been anything more than a crass commercial for little plastic toys, but instead it was a raucous celebration of childhood, creativity, and, surprisingly, conservatism.
Somehow that movie hit the magic nail on the head and managed to be all things for all people. I loved it, as did most people. It’s no surprise that it would have a sequel, but “The LEGO Batman Movie” is less a sequel than a spin-off of Will Arnett’s scene-stealing supporting character from the first film. That Batman was so refreshing, so on-point, and so funny that many people have seriously posited that the LEGO version may well be the best on-screen Batman of all.
In this film, we find Batman the toast of Gotham City as he, once again, takes out the bad guys, led by the Joker, and saves the day. True to form, our hero is the ultimate loner, not even able to commit to having a relationship of antagonism with his arch-enemy.
In an effort to get Batman to notice him, the Joker decides to pull off his greatest caper yet, one involving every villain of the Batman universe, as well as just about every other bad guy available in LEGO’s vast collections. Alongside Harley Quinn and The Penguin are Voldemort, the Kraken from “Clash of the Titans,” and “Dr. Who’s” Daleks. (“British robots!” growls Batman in the midst of battle.)
Part of what made the original film special was how well it was able to embrace the LEGOness of it all. This time around, the story is more conventional, though doesn’t completely ignore the essential toy nature of the characters.
I was glad that “LEGO Batman” didn’t feel like a retread of the original, though I can’t say I liked it quite as much. This is less a criticism of the current film than an acknowledgement of how special the first one was.
Like its predecessor, however, “Batman” is very smartly written. Expertly combining humor and sentimentality, irreverence, and an actual moral lesson, the writers take what could easily go off the rails and shape it into a complex and fully-formed whole.
One thing these films do well is combining a huge number of characters together. Most are little more than cameos, but in addition to Arnett, we get great performances from Rosario Dawson, Michael Cera, Zach Galifianakis, and Ralph Fiennes.
Next up from the LEGO film factory is an adaptation of Ninjago, a goofy concept that I would have completely disregarded only a few years ago. Now, after two homeruns in a row, I’m willing to go see whatever these guys put out.
“John Wick: Chapter 2” is rated R for gratuitous violence, language, and brief nudity.
“The LEGO Batman Movie” is rated PG for mild rude humor.