Writer-director Ben Wheatley returns with perhaps the most brilliant and bonkers film of the entire year.

‘Free Fire’ hurtles along at a breakneck speed, showcasing a wonderfully callous disregard for its characters and but a wisp of a plot. Our ‘heroes’ may spend the majority of their time putting bullets into the scenery and not each other, but it doesn’t miss a beat.

Featuring a star-studded cast of characters who perhaps aren’t the best people to be left handling automatic weapons, ‘Free Fire’ tells the explosive tale of an arms deal in an abandoned warehouse in 1970s Boston going South and going South fast. With two of the gangsters involved seemingly having some unfinished business, an already tense and dangerously volatile situation is pushed over the edge into an uneasy shootout, with no one really sure who is on which side.

With a sharply-written and punchy script that harkens back to the days of early Tarantino, Wheatley rides the fine line between action and comedy with immaculate prowess. After no time at all, the film is propelled along by its own inertia and little else as characters bounce off each other with genuinely funny banter and things go from bad to worse to the really absurd.

‘Free Fire’ is a terrific exercise in stripping down as much as possible from the narrative and creating pure and unadulterated, glorious and gory action cinema. Whilst it may function first and foremost as a groovy, stylish comedy, there are moments of great fight choreography amidst all the profanity and one-liners, with the effortlessly cool and debonair Ord (a bearded Armie Hammer) alternating between suavely lighting cigarettes and jibing his cohorts and blowing great big holes in body parts and concrete alike with a great big rifle.

But, if any of the cast deserves praise and recognition, it’s Sharlto Copley. He steals the show as the South African arms dealer, Vernon, who boasts not only the flashiest suit but serves as the source of most of the film’s comedy – “watch and Verne!” Copley is unrivalled in his career-best performance as the not-so-suave ‘misdiagnosed child genius’ whose ego is perhaps the biggest thing about him.

It feels almost unfair to point at one of the cast-members and proclaim them as the best because the entire line-up is simply sublime. Cillian Murphy as the slick Irish gangster, Chris, has a great screen presence and all eyes are on Academy Award-winner Brie Larson as she firmly holds her own as the tough and uncompromising femme fatale, Justine.

Even from a technical standpoint, ‘Free Fire’ excels. It’s stripped down yet so tightly edited you’ll feel almost out of breath by the time the credits roll. The camerawork may at times be a little too frenetic and nauseating, but this comes with the territory.

Few films can pull off the fun and excitement ‘Free Fire’ so easily does. It may not be a particularly deep or meaningful film, but it’s undeniably electrifying in its simplicity. It does what it wants in such a surefooted manner that it feels like nothing less than a much-needed breath of fresh air.

An eminent cult-classic if I ever saw one.

Free Fire rating: 9/10

Director Chad Stahelski and star Keanu Reeves return with an adrenaline-fuelled thrill-ride that ultimately leaves something to be desired.

Picking up right where the action left off in 2013’s ‘John Wick,’ ‘John Wick: Chapter Two’ sees the black-suited, gun-wielding hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) pulled back out of retirement in order to repay a blood debt and absolve himself of his ties to the criminal world.

In true action movie style, our hero relentlessly lays waste to an untold number of henchmen, seemingly never breaking a sweat. As one character aptly remarks, “You’re not very good at retiring.” – “I’m working on it.”

What ‘Chapter Two’ does best is devote the majority of its two-hour runtime to insane, high-octane and unflinchingly violent fight sequences. It goes without saying that the fight choreography and sound design is almost unparalleled in the context of modern action films.

Like its predecessor, ‘Chapter Two’ is a well-nuanced love-letter to the cheesiest examples of action cinema. It respectfully nods its head to the likes of Michael Mann’s ‘Collateral’ (2002), culminating in a not-so-subtle homage to Robert Clouse’s ‘Enter the Dragon’ (1973).

These references are of course warmly received, even if it means the film sacrifices a part of what little identity it has.

Keanu Reeves in John Wick: Chapter 2

That is really the biggest criticism of the ‘John Wick’ series thus-far. Whilst ‘Chapter Two’ places a little more thematic importance on ‘reflections of the soul’ and the unrelenting struggle to leave behind the only life you know (hello to ‘Carlito’s Way’), it is just a collection of admittedly enjoyable sequences that are loosely-connected by a weak story and poor writing.

By no means is the point of the film to analyse the intricacy of the human soul but unfortunately, no matter how exciting the fight scenes are on their own, it’s not difficult to end up a little bored. It’s true that violence in movies works best when it has meaning and weight; choreography can only get you so far.

For pre-existing fans of the series, rejoice in knowing that ‘Chapter Two,’ whilst weak on story, at least does the lore of the Cinematic Universe justice. We see more of the world these hitmen inhabit, from the hidden gun stores in hotels to tailors who specialise in bulletproof suits.

For the second entry in a relatively young series, ‘Chapter Two’ is more than serviceable. It raises the bar and turns it all up to 11, setting the precedent for what the franchise actually does aim to achieve: exciting you.

To best summarise the sequel would be to say it’s more of the same, but everything is louder, more extreme. If you thought the legend of John Wick taking out three guys with a pencil was something, then brace yourself.

It’s difficult to say if I was disappointed because in many ways I got exactly what I was expecting. It outshines the first in a myriad of ways, but it still feels a long way from being something truly meaningful.

John Wick: Chapter Two rating – 6/10

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