John Wick: Chapter 2
John Wick: Chapter 2
Release Date: February 10th, 2017
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Lance Reddick, and Ian McShane
The first John Wick was one of the sleeper hits of 2014. Most viewers expected that it would be another genre action film like so many pumped out by studios like so many low-budget shoot-'em-ups. But as critics and viewers quickly discovered, there was something special behind Keanu Reeves' quiet, sulking assassin and his penchant for headshots. For one thing, Reeves' extensive martial arts and gun training meant that he performed almost all of the stunts on his own, allowing for long cuts of unbroken action instead of the quick-edits used in most action flicks to hide stand-ins. John Wick also sports some impressive world building by creating a criminal underground that runs on a strict code filled with secret locations and special currency. There's also the matter of the plot: the son of a gang lord steals his car and kills his puppy. His puppy, damnit. The one given to him by his recently deceased wife. Wick goes on a roaring rampage of revenge that would leave Sterling Archer speechless, and the audience is there all the way, because why did you kill that puppy, you monster? Combine all of this in a film filled with creative action sequences, and it's no wonder that John Wick received as much buzz as it did.
So now a little over two years later, John Wick is back in his sequel, Chapter 2, and I must admit that it's even better than the first one. The plot revolves around performing one final job for Italian mob boss Santino D’Antonio who helped Wick "retire" from his previous life before the events of the first movie. D'Antonio is calling in his last favor and forcing Wick to perform one last assassination. However, after it's completion, D'Antonio tries to clean up loose ends by having Wick killed, leading to a large bounty on his head. Now Wick needs to get to D'Antonio before he himself is assassinated.
The main focus of the film is the action, of which there are three major sequences with several others sprinkled throughout. The opening scene concerns Wick finally reclaiming his car from the Russian mobsters from the first film (or the few that haven't been killed yet), featuring so many cars crashing into each other that you'd think it was a monster truck rally. The second major sequence takes place in Ancient/Medieval Roman catacombs in an excitingly-shot sequence that ends with a brutal up-close gun/fistfight with bodyguard/assassin Cassius (played with poise and style by rapper Common). The final segment takes place in an interesting "House of Mirrors" style museum exhibit, that leads to some engaging visuals.
Chapter 2 sports some old and new faces that help broaden Wick's world. John Leguizamo and Thomas Sadoski return (only briefly) as John's friends Aurelio and Jimmy, and Lance Reddick is back as the formal and professional Charon. Ian McShane also returns as Winston, the manager of the Continental Hotel that harbors the criminals and assassins of this underground world. New faces include Common's Cassius, Ruby Rose as the mute assassin Ares, and Laurence Fishburne as The Bowery King, a crime lord that assists Wick. Yet even among these myriad personalities and colorful characters, Keanu Reeves' John Wick stands out as our near-silent and tortured protagonist. In any other movie, Wick would be the boogeyman that plagues the hero throughout the film. He's an unstoppable force of nature with few lines and fewer motivations other than survival and vengeance. And yet despite the little we know about his past and the fact that we see him mow down, like, a million people, he is our "hero" and we root for him, even when he makes questionable decisions. I guess it's difficult to hate Keanu.
While I am gushing about the action sequences in this film, there is a deeper emotional level to this movie. Wick's problems stem from his own past decisions and from placing his trust in the wrong people. Every problem Wick faces, including the consequences that lead to the film's sequel-hook ending, comes from decision's that Wick himself made. He is his own worst enemy, and even though people try to keep pulling him back into his old life, he returns anyway with gusto. It's a tragedy just as much as it is a thriller.
This is a violent film, filled with grotesque fight scenes and moments where the whole theater cringed at the creative way Wick dispatched some of his enemies. And while the movie also hits some pretty predictable tropes and clichés, it's an incredibly stylish character- and story-driven movie that does what it does with timing, precision, and creativity. I would recommend John Wick: Chapter 2 to anyone who loves these kind of films, and suggest taking the time to see it in theaters if possible.