Film and drama

Screen Themes: John Wick Chapter 2 vs Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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What could an action movie about an unstoppable killer and family flick about an overweight Kiwi kid have in common? Entertainment editor John Turnbull investigates.

John Wick: Chapter 2

Directed by Chad Stahelski (2017)

When the original John Wick was released in 2014, it was a hyper-violent breath of fresh air. The movie tells the story of retired hitman John Wick, who is drawn into a web of revenge when Theon Greyjoy steals his car and kills his dog. A surprising return to form for Keanu Reeves following years of questionable choices, the film was such a box office hit that a sequel was inevitable.

Three years later and the sequel has arrived, and it sees retired hitman John Wick drawn into a web of revenge when a generic gangster who looks like Sam Dastyari steals his car. If you think this description sounds a little derivative, you’d be right, because John Wick Chapter 2 is essentially the same movie as John Wick chapter 1, with slightly less animal cruelty.

Aside from Keanu’s taciturn return as the titular anti-hero, John Wick 2 has a reliable supporting cast who do what they can with a basic script. Best in show (as always) is Ian McShane, returning to the role of chief assassin Winston. Australian Ruby Rose is spared from the dodgy script by virtue of playing a mute, while former rapper Common plays Wick’s old friend/nemesis Cassian with a workmanlike commitment.

Director and former stunt co-ordinator Chad Stahelski doesn’t venture outside his comfort zone and, as a result, John Wick Chapter 2 is essentially one long stunt sequence. Wildly stylish but narratively shallow, this sequel suffers from the dual problems of familiarity and declining returns. While it’s super-cool to see John kill the first 20 or so bad guys with a reliable double-tap (one to the chest, one to the head) it becomes a little stale once he reaches kill number 100 and positively boring once casualties start to push towards four figures.

While the first movie was somewhat unbelievable, the introduction of a bullet-proof suit really ramps up the stakes in this second installment. Not only does this miraculous material add no bulk to Keanu’s immaculately tailored suit, it can absorb multiple shots from high caliber weapons at close range. Worst of all, in a world where Wick is being hunted by the best assassins in the country, not a single one of them thinks to shoot him in his unprotected head. Seriously, Wick absorbs countless shots to the body but not a single one to the face, which suggests that he might be the only assassin in this universe to work out that shooting people in the head is a good way to kill them.

I don’t think I’m the first person to suggest that John Wick 2 is a religious allegory, wherein John Wick is either dead and in hell (in which case Ian McShane is the devil) or the angel of death, sent on a quest to wipe out every sinner on earth. In the latter scenario, McShane is God, which is such a perfect piece of casting that he’s already playing the role over on American Gods

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Directed by Taikia Waititi (2015)

If you know anyone from New Zealand, there is a good chance that they have recommended this movie to you already. Which makes sense when you consider that the last Kiwi film that most people remember is the harrowing Once Were Warriors. Worlds away from the gritty realism of that New Zealand, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a distinctly Kiwi tale — funny, charming and devastating in equal measures.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople tells the tale of Ricky Baker, an orphan who has been branded by the state adoption services as a bad egg. With a list of petty crimes as long as your arm, Ricky is a misfit in the welfare system, sent to live in the middle of nowhere with the kind hearted Auntie Bella and her gruff husband Hec. When Bella passes away unexpectedly, Ricky and a reluctant Hec go on the run from child services, led by the Terminator-obsessed Paula.

Shot on a tight budget with no special effects, this movie lives or dies on the performances of its stars. Fortunately, most of them knock it out of the park. Young Julian Dennison is hilarious as the headstrong Ricky, while Sam Neill brings a perfect combination of grief and anger to his portrayal of the grieving Hec. In a brief but moving role, Rima Te Weita makes you fall in love with Auntie Bella, while Flight of the Conchords manager Rhys Darby is a delight as delusional hermit Psycho Sam.

Director Taika Waititi got his big screen start with oddball comedy Eagle vs Shark in 2007, then went on to direct acclaimed drama Boy in 2010. He took on Vampire culture with the uneven comedy What We Do In the Shadows in 2014 and is currently directing blockbuster Thor: Ragnarok, which looks pretty awesome from the trailers so far…

Shot in many of the same locations as Lord of the Rings (the basis of a running gag), Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a fine advertisement for New Zealand tourism, showcasing jaw-dropping landscapes as a background to the burgeoning friendship between Ricky and Hec.

The Verdict

It would be difficult to find two films more different than John Wick Chapter 2 and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. One is a hyper-violent revenge fantasy with a lot of bullets, the other is an adventure comedy with a lot of heart. On the other hand, both films exist in their own fantasy world, where a suit can stop bullets, or the entire NZ military comes out to hunt for one missing teenager.

If you’re in the mood for mindless violence, John Wick Chapter 2 will certainly scratch that itch. The presence of Ian McShane and some stylish direction make the two hour running time slightly more tolerable, although the lazy setup for the inevitable second sequel will leave some viewers with a bad taste in their mouth.

Alternatively, if you’re in the mood for a comedy that may well bring a tear to your eye, I highly recommend Hunt for the Wilderpeople. It’s choice, bro.

Books by John Turnbull are now available on Amazon and Kindle. There’s supernatural thriller, Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper; black comedy, City Boy; and travel guidebook, Bar Trek: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in the IA store HERE. (Free postage!)

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