Two and a half years ago I don’t think anybody ever thought that a non-stop action film about a grieving ex-hitman out for blood after Russian mobsters murder his puppy would ever work. However, pleasant surprise struck as “John Wick” delivered unrelenting style, exhilarating bloody action in spades, and a sense of originality through deadpan humor and the unique world that was established. Such positive aspects topped with Keanu Reeves’s indefatigable charisma meant that a sequel was inevitable. Does it deliver?
Picking off right after the first installment’s events we see John Wick (Keanu Reeves) getting his ’69 Mustang back from the Russian mob in style (not in one piece though). Just when he thinks he’s finally free of the assassin lifestyle, an Italian mobster named Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) from John’s past shows up at his door. He reminds John of the blood oath he took in order to retire and forces him to pay the debt through the assassination of Gianna (Claudia Gerini), Santino’s sister. She was given a seat at a council of elite criminals, a position that is disputed with Santino. Things don’t go as planned for John while he’s in Rome for the hit. Shit happens and a massive 7-million-dollar bounty is placed on his head. We all know what that means, some major ass kicking ensues.
Besides the body count, a notable facet of its predecessor that “John Wick: Chapter 2” doubled down on is the dry humor. All over the film, from the way these characters interact, the so called “code” of the Continental, all the way down to the stylish action sequences, the subtle humor that is purveyed gives the film a burst of originality that consequently distinguishes it from other popcorn action flicks. I mean, there was one scene involving John and Cassian (Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr.) shooting at each other with silenced pistols in a crowded neon-lit metro while walking amongst the crowd and nobody appeared to notice or give a shit. In this strange version of New York City, it appears that anybody from a punky chick to a drunken homeless guy is some kind of secret assassin. The kind of weird and rather preposterous stuff we see in this film is not only positively entertaining and funny in a subtle kind of way, it also induces interest in the audience and in a way encourages them to ask questions about the world that has been built before them. In my honest opinion this is the kind of creativity that’s been absent from modern action flicks.
The ass-kicking we see in this film is on a whole other level and is bolstered by Chad Stahelski’s direction. Stahelski’s method of doing long takes and not shooting the action up close was a wise move. This gave a lot of breathing room and allowed us to see what was going on clearly and in full view. Additionally, doing so was necessary to accentuate the supremacy of John’s skills from fighting to shooting, to doing both at the same time. Makes sense with such a high body count, right? Accompaniying the brilliant action is Dan Lausten’s gorgeous cinematography. This world we see is ridden with eye catching colors, which gives every action scene a unique disposition of its own. Additionally, the climactic action sequence in a hall of mirrors near the film’s end was a prime example of truly sophisticated choreography.
The plot of this film was rather thin, but for some reason I still felt like there was a good deal going on. Unlike the original, John here is forced into doing what he’s doing which kind of alleviates the emotional impetus behind the first film. I’m still curious about John’s relationship with Helen as that was the motivation for his retirement and it isn’t really touched on (perhaps it’s done to create a sense of mystery around John’s character? Or maybe to retain the signature cartoonish feel of the franchise?). However, I did appreciate how this film expanded on the original’s world.
Clocking in at around 2 hours, “John Wick: Chapter 2” might feel slightly drawn out, but there is no uncertainty that you’re going to have one hell of a good time once you set foot into that theater. The performances are excellent, the action is out of this world, the visuals are stunning, and most importantly there is a profusion of creativity and heart to be found. Bring on the third chapter, I’m excited!
My score: 8/10. Great stuff!