John Wick, The Raid, and how to make an action sequel

“John Wick” and “The Raid: Redemption” are easily comparable films. They are both great action movies that exude care and absolute confidence into their use of action. Their plot never feels important and is very much secondary to their beautiful, enthralling violence. And, as of this week, they both have sequels, although only one of them feels like a better film than the original.

“John Wick: Chapter 2” is an excellent sequel to the first one. It takes everything that’s great about the first movie and improves it. It takes a huge step forward in terms of straight up action quality which leads to beautiful setpieces. It also expands on the lore of the first film, always with the same subtlety and elegance as the original. And it delivers a simple, straightforward plot that wraps the action and lore in a smart clean package. It’s bigger and bolder that ‘John Wick’, but it keeps the same feel, which ‘The Raid 2 doesn’t.

“The Raid 2” is also a film that could be qualified as bigger and bolder than its predecessor. It’s setpieces and fights feel bigger and even better, and it’s a much better looking film than the original, it feels like Gareth Edwards’s craft has definitely improved in the visuals department. Still, something definitely feels lost in the transition. “The Raid: Redemption” is a very tense movie. All throughout you, like the characters on screen, feel stressed out. They are trapped with nowhere to run, injured and hopeless and everyone in the building is trying to kill them. In “The Raid 2”, that feeling is replaced by a very ordinary plot, filled with gangsters, betrayals and corrupt cops. The action takes the backend and the tension is lost.

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There’s one big difference between “John Wick” and “The Raid: Redemption” that’s very important to understand why these sequels feel so close or so different than the originals. John Wick is always the hunter in his story. Even when he’s captured and at his worst, he always feels in control. He wants to kill a man and nothing and no one is going to keep him away from his prey. By opposition, Rama and his police squad start out as hunters for only a few minutes but immediately become the hunted. They are the prey of everyone in the building and their only goal becomes survival.

John Wick very much remains a predator in the sequel. It’s even upped. He feels like a force of nature, completely unstoppable. He was the Boogeyman and he has become Death. “John Wick: Chapter 2” takes the feeling that made the original so great to another level. It’s both incredibly familiar and spectacular in new ways.

Rama is completely isolated in “The Raid 2”. Like in the original, he’s surrounded by criminals. The only difference is that this time the criminals don’t want to kill him for most of the film. The whole concept, the tension of the first film is completely lost and is basically replaced by a barely engaging crime drama. It still does lead to amazing action scenes and some of the best fights ever to be put on screen, but you have to get through a very bland script.

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“John Wick: Chapter 2” and “The Raid 2” are both great action films. Both them and their predecessors are some of the best ever made. They absolutely deserved to be watched and praised as such. The main difference between them is that “John Wick: Chapter 2” feels like a definitive improvement over “John Wick” in every way, while “The Raid 2” feels different from the “The Raid”, and not in the best way. If either of these films ever gets a sequel, let’s hope they try to keep improving, while keeping the feeling that made the originals so good.

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