John Wick: Chapter 2
Jacob Richardson | 17/05/2017
Bloody, brutal and increasingly audience-winking, John Wick: Chapter 2 brings back everything you loved about the first, in an original and unique story that expands on the assassins underworld.
Starting immediately after the events of the first movie, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) bludgeons his way through a russian mobster’s car yard to find his stolen car. Upon returning home, he finds a figure from his past waiting for him; the Italian kingpin Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), ready to call in a favour John owes him. John travels to Italy to kill D’Antino’s sister, giving Santino a chance at a seat at the high table. Alas, after he succeeds, D’Antino takes out a $7 million contract on John’s head, and Wick must fight his way through every assassin in New York in order to take his revenge on the man who took out the contract.
The first John Wick was a wildly surprising bloodbath, anchored in a moody, return-to-form performance from Keanu and stunning action choreography. This one doubles down on Wick’s troubles. Now, with his dog dead and his car smashed to pieces, he believes he has hit rock bottom. But that’s not the end, as we watch Keanu’s life be burnt to the ground (literally) when D’Antonio fires a grenade launcher into his house. It sets the tone for this movie. Whereas the first film introduced us to John’s relationship with the seedy and sophisticated underbelly of New York City’s assassins brotherhood underground, here director Chad Stahleski takes joy in burning John’s connection to that underground first. Remarkably, it ends up being quite effective.
Keanu once again brings the necessary gravitas to the role, albeit this time perhaps with a little bit more of a nod to the audience. This is particularly evident in a stunning scene with ‘The Sommelier’ (Peter Serafanowizc), a Rome-based weapons dealer who engages in a repartee with Wick over a gun purchase that is chocked full of puns and wine-based innuendo. Stahleski smartly intersperses elements of this scene with slightly more serious procurement activities Wick performs on his arrival in Rome, including getting suits tailored, which reduces the potential for farcical dismissal, and instead elevates the sequence to something truly unique and remarkable.
While it is a joy to watch Ian McShane and some of the other stalwarts of the first movie return, chewing through their dialogue with ease, it is also a pleasure to see some of the newly introduced characters. Scamarcio’s D’Antonio is, in many respects, a more effective villain than that of the first movie; his smirking demeanour enough to make you long for John to shoot him in between the eyes. Lawrence Fishburne’s performance as the leader of the New York Homeless is full of grandeur and verbosity, and the mini-matrix reunion is a welcome addition. If anyone is slightly off-beat, it is Ruby Rose’s deaf bodyguard. Unlike Common (another new addition to the series), she can’t muster up enough intensity or dread to have you truly believe that she is dangerous or likeable. A good villain can’t just be pure evil - there needs to be something intoxicating and attractive about them, and Rose’s Ares comes off as more of a petulant, obnoxious child than the noble, savage assassin that Common’s Cassian is.
Yet again, John Wick knocks it out of the park with inventive, sumptuous action pieces. Whether it is the silent pistol fight between Cassian and John in a train station, the car battle at the beginning or the mirror filled set piece at the end, the choreography is so tight and the cinematography so inventive that the fights always seem fresh and unique. It is a refreshing change of pace when so much of the action in movies these days is a CGI mess. It is also built into a plot that doesn’t feel like a cheap money making exercise, but rather a logical continuation of the previous movie. The movie feels like a cohesive whole, while also building in room for a sequel.
Full of blood, rapid gun battles, and Keanu delivering one-liners while wearing a turtleneck, John Wick: Chapter 2 gives our hero room to breathe, only to ratchet up the perceived claustrophobia of his situation. It can’t capture the surprise of the first film, but if you enjoyed the original, you’ll likely love this one too - particularly after watching Keanu take down two men with a pencil.