Kevin: Like its titular hero, “John Wick: Chapter 2” blew away all newcomers at the box office for the second weekend in a row, again defeating anyone not made of Legos or in a sadomasochistic sexual relationship. The good word of mouth, and the fact that the follow-up is poised to be the rare sequel that outgrosses the original, bodes well for at least one more adventure for our well-dressed head-shooting protagonist. But since that is probably at least a couple of years away, if you’re having a hard time with the idea of living in a John Wickless world for a while, here are three movies you can watch to help you deal with the withdrawal:
“Man of Tai Chi”
Before he was John Wick, Keanu Reeves was “The Man of Tai Chi”! Actually no, that’s a former “Matrix” stuntman named Tiger Chen, playing a martial arts disciple seeking to prove the worth of a special Tai Chi style in an underground fighting tournament. Reeves does play the villain and made his directorial debut with the 2013 film, staging the kind of well-choreographed and clearly shot fight scenes that the “John Wick” films are now famous for:
If you liked that then there is way more to come, so if you just need an action fix then “Man of Tai Chi” delivers. Which is good because some people may be thrown off by the fact that the film is a lot more serious and philosophical than its pulpy plot would suggest, but then again part of what made the original “John Wick” so great was how committed it was to not playing the idea of a ruthless hitman avenging a puppy completely for laughs. Reeves does have a lot of fun throwing different kinds of fighters at Chen, and it’s great to see him finally get into the action at the end. If for some reason he needed to step into the director’s chair for “John Wick: Chapter 3,” the series would be in good hands.
I would never accuse John Wick of ripping anyone off, mainly because I don’t want to die, but I have to believe its filmmakers were somewhat influenced by Michael Mann’s own hitman-on-a-mission story. For instance, early on when Tom Cruise’s character Vincent quickly and efficiently takes out some thugs in alley, it’s hard to imagine how Wick would have done it any differently:
Meanwhile the nightclub scene later in the film, where Vincent ruthlessly beats up or guns down a number of henchmen amid of sea of partygoers, bares more than a little resemblance to the similar sequence where Wick does the same in pursuit of Iosef the puppy-killer. But hey, they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and if you are going to imitate any film you could do worse than Mann’s lean and mean action classic.
Similarly, while Vincent is clearly positioned as a villain in “Collateral,” he’s so funny and charming he could easily be the hero in a different story. Hell, as CJ pointed out in our review of “John Wick 2,” apart from avenging a dead dog there is really not much separating Wick from most of the people he is killing. At least in “Collateral” Vincent sticks up for Jamie Foxx’s cab driver character Max against his asshole boss, and later delivers flowers to Max’s sick mother in the hospital. You could easily do a prequel with Vincent avenging a dead kitten and we’d be cheering him on every step of the way. Actually now that I think about it, if they could somehow do a cross-over with Vincent and Max getting together in “John Wick 3,” it would be the greatest hitman movie ever made.
Side note: CJ can back me up that one of our favorite parts of “Collateral” is that Peter Berg, playing the superior of Mark Ruffalo’s cop character, has no interest in doing any actual police work. While most movie cops are always getting heated about the idea of the feds or anyone else taking their case away, Berg spends every one of his scenes in the movie trying to push the case onto someone else so he can just go home. In some ways then he may be the most realistic cop in movie history.
If you really like the “John Wick” movies but haven’t seen “The Raid,” then what the hell are you waiting for? Watch it now! (Unless you are at work, then I guess you should wait.) Before the Indonesian-made “Raid” hit a few theaters in early 2012, fans of old-school action oftentimes had to suffer through films that followed the “Bourne” style of fight choreography (i.e. make everything as incomprehensible to follow as possible). “The Raid” was a welcome reminder that sometimes people can be the best special effect when allowed to show off their skills without a lot of confusing editing and camera tricks.
While “John Wick” was probably already in some level of development before “The Raid” came out, I’m sure Reeves and Co. saw it as a challenge to show that American filmmakers could produce an action film equally as visceral and exciting. Similarly, while “John Wick 2” expanded the world of the original, “The Raid 2” also takes on a more ambitious scope and more elaborate action sequences, although it doesn’t have the same impact as the first, with its group of police officers fighting to escape a criminal-filled building. But taken together, both “Raids” probably pack an even bigger one-two punch than the two “John Wicks,” and will leave you equally in anticipation of what director Gareth Evans does next.
Bonus Movie Recommendation: Iko Uwais, one of the stars of “The Raid” 1 and 2, also stars in an upcoming martial arts flick called “Headshot,” which I caught at Fantastic Fest in Austin last year. It gets a little overly serious and melodramatic near the end, but if you are a fan of the kind of action in “John Wick” and “The Raid” then you should check it out on the big screen if you can when it comes out March 3. As violent as the R-rated “Logan” is supposed to be, trust me when I say there’s no way it is topping “Headshot” in that department.