2/09/2017

Review: 'John Wick: Chapter 2', Keanu Reeves Is Definitely Back In Blistering, Bullet-Filled Sequel


John Wick has, for me, been elevated to The Raid levels of sheer action movie awesomeness, and I see a number of similarities in their initial chapters and sequels. Both came out of nowhere and quickly established unique fight choreography that others would be hard to replicate without being deemed a ripoff; both featured charismatic close-mouthed protagonists; and both built an intricately-designed world in which to place a fairly standard genre plot. And now, John Wick: Chapter 2 is here and it gets most of the same things right that The Raid 2 did, while succumbing to some of the same pitfalls that come with expansion.


The good news is that, again like The Raid's sequel, John Wick: Chapter 2 is everything fans of the first movie could have hoped for. And then some. I look at these movies as the action flicks I would like to sit down and have a glass of wine while watching, they are so beautiful and poetic. And I hate wine, but that's how they make me feel. Keanu Reeves, as mesmerizing as he's ever been (Seriously, he's been on a roll since Man of Tai Chi, don't sleep), is like a well-orchestrated instrument of violence utilizing his special brand of Gun-Fu.


But at first things start off slowly as the world of dangerous assassin John Wick must be re-established. The rules must be made clear. Rule #1 is not to fuck with John Wick or his stuff. The opening sequence doesn't do much to advance the plot; it's basically a resolution of the first movie as a crime kingpin hilariously played by Peter Stormare tries to close up shop before Wick stops by to get his stolen car back. Of course, Wick shows up first; we see him in car chases, we see him getting run over multiple times and yet still keep on ticking long enough to wipe everybody out. This is why you don't fuck with John Wick. It does keep the real plot from going into gear, though. Wick has a brand new dog (Yay!!!) and a hope of retiring in peace. Unfortunately he's pulled right back into action by a blood debt owed to Santino (young Javier Bardem doppelganger Riccardo Scamarcio), a member of the Camorra criminal syndicate. Santino is the guy who made it possible for Wick to retire in the first place, and now the debt must be paid with one final assignment. Wick refuses, more of his stuff gets destroyed (Nobody has learned Rule #!), but the debt must still be paid. Cue a journey to Italy where Wick has an impossible mission to pull off that turns out to be much more than he bargained for.


It's in Italy that things really begin to take off, and we see the world-building and Wick mythology that made the first movie so much fun. Again, Wick is more of a legend than a man at this point. He's like Batman, or the Boogeyman as he's frequently referred to. The stuff he's able to accomplish with a gun, or just a pencil, strikes fear in the heart of hardened-killers the world over. And everywhere he goes, Wick's reputation precedes him. Franco Nero, in a welcome extended cameo, politely asks if Wick is there to kill the Pope, because if so then it's time to ready the black smokestacks. One of the best sequences finds Wick preparing for his night's mission by getting his gear at a number of different shops: a gun shop (run by The Tick's Peter Serafinowicz) that sounds like it should be run by wine connoisseurs; a tailor who has just the right suit for a man expecting to eat some lead; and more. This hitman universe exists right in front of us and under our noses, and delving into it is such a treat you'll never want to leave. Once again we are treated to the classy confines of The Continental, a hotel for those who are in the "cleaning" business. And with it comes a couple of familiar faces; Winston (Ian McShane) the hotel's enigmatic owner, and Charon (Lance Reddick), the hotel's mannered concierge who gets a very special job this time around. Common, who seems to have a thing for playing assassins, has some intense hand-to-hand exchanges with Reeves in a role that I think is destined for bigger things. Ruby Rose doesn't get to do much but wink and make hand gestures but there's something untamed about her, even when dressed in a perfectly-tailored suit, that fits in the world of John Wick.


Flying solo behind the camera this time is Chad Stahelski, and he isn't missing a beat without his partner, David Leitch. The gun fights are as poetic as ever with Wick glancing around the screen, firing off pinpoint shots in rapid fire succession. There's no shortage of blood amidst all of that beautiful choreography, and while gruesome it's usually only a moment before Wick is off and killing the next armed goon. The trick is that the action never gets boring or repetitive, despite there being a lot more of it this time, and that's because the scenery is constantly changing. Wick is still a little too invincible for my taste; the amount of punishment he takes would kill a dozen men, but by now we know he's going to prevail. Why front? The way this film embraces its most obvious genre elements is part of the fun.


Clocking in at just over two hours, John Wick: Chapter 2 is a stretch too long. Much like The Raid 2, the effort to craft a larger story to place the action within leads to a few bumpy patches. Sometimes you just want it to go from fight to fight to fight without interruption. However, you'd be hard-pressed to find something worth cutting out because it all works so well. Every scene builds upon the foundation that is the John Wick universe, and the payoff in the final act makes paying attention to every single moment well worth it. Without question there will be a 'Chapter 3', and John Wick: Chapter 2 will have you salivating to know what happens next to the world's most lethal killer.

Rating: 4 out of 5