John Wick: Chapter 2
Keanu Reeves, Common, Riccardo Scarmacio, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Lance Reddick, John Leguizamo, Laurence Fishburne
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Keanu Reeves is to back to shoot heads and glower in the inevitable follow-up to the 2014 surprise hit, John Wick.
Keanu Reeves is back to shoot heads and glower in the inevitable follow-up to the 2014 surprise hit, John Wick. This time around retirement eludes the titular hitman once again, and he is forced to carry out an assassination in Rome at the behest of Camorra crime lord Santino D’Antonio, who pressures him with a “marker”, a token of the clandestine society of assassins alluded to in the first film.
Of course, D’Antonio is a scumbag – he blows up John’s house just to punctuate his request – and you just know that betrayal is in offing. A seven million dollar bounty later, and our man Wick is once again taking on all comers, the non-mooks being cardinally represented by Common as a bodyguard with a grudge and Ruby Rose as a mute henchperson (stop trying to make “fetch” happen, Hollywood).
John Wick Part Deux is saddled with something its forebear was mercifully free of: the weight of expectation. There’s an iconography in place now – slick suits, cool guns, muscle cars, a design aesthetic that contrasts New York grime with Old World gentility, and the bar for action is higher. In 2014 this kind of thing was a breath of fresh air, but now the film has something to live up to and, hopefully, exceed.
It doesn’t always – after a fun, neon-drenched cold open we get bogged down in table-setting and world-building for an inordinately long time, and the world being built makes less and less sense the more we learn about it (come to think of it, The Matrix movies had the same problem). The film’s arcane underworld of hired killers makes for some fun aesthetics and playful double entendres – it’s hard to not love Peter Serafinowicz as a “sommelier” (read: arms dealer) and Laurence Fishburne as a pigeon-fancying Fagin figure – but the whole thing crumbles when you apply even a little logical pressure. There’s no way their lip service masquerade could possibly be maintained; then again, from the way everyone ignores the wounded and bleeding Wick as he duels with various would-be headhunters in public, maybe this series is set in a world where this kind of urban warfare happens all the time and people have just learned to ignore it. Or maybe a guy in a bloodied-up business suit isn’t such an unusual sight in New York City.
Still, that kind of silliness is part of John Wick: Chapter 2‘s very ’90s charm, and it still looks the business; the middle act, set chiefly in Rome, is exquisite, playing out like a cross between a ’70s Italian crime thriller and ’60s Italian horror movie – and featuring a cameo from Franco Nero just to drive the point home. It does take a while for the action to ramp up to the dizzying heights of the first installment though, but once we get there it’s extremely enjoyable, gratuitously gory stuff, with director Chad Stahelski once again demonstrating his command of framing and editing, letting us – hooray! – clearly understand what’s happening at any given moment rather than obfuscating the action. Once every killer in the world is looking for Wick, we get a parade of novelty villains for our hero to tussle with, and that’s never not a good time – if we’re picking favourites, the sumo-looking guy is hard to top.
The fun of a John Wick film – their technical acumen aside – is the way they take a fairly ludicrous premise and treat it with all the gravitas they and a supporting cast led by Ian McShane can muster. It’s a special kind of charm that requires sure tonal footing and, happily, Chapter 2 doesn’t stumble. A big, obvious sequel hook promises more John Wick action in the future, and we’ll be happy to take the bait.