Starring Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Common, Ruby Rose and Riccardo Scarmarcio
Written by: Derek Kolstad
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Rated ‘R’ for oh my god, so many headshots…
Runtime 122 minutes
Yeah, I’m thinking he’s back. The original John Wick wears its cult status like a finely tailored suit on its namesake. It is a energetic and bombastic piece of ridicula, a movie so brazen in its sensibilities that it almost becomes too much to handle. I pity any director who attempts to create a sequel to any beloved, flash-in-the-(brain)-pan film; I downright feared for former stuntman-turned director Chad Stahelski in making Chapter 2. Yes, he directed the first to great acclaim – but now the pressure is on to deliver.
I am happy to report that Stahelski and crew do manage the impossible: they up the ante, creating a film that is ‘more’ of everything the original had. More headshots, more insanity, more stern looks from Keanu Reeves. However, that also translates to more fat, more overly convoluted plotting, more dead air and well, more stern looks from Keanu Reeves. It is all in how you gauge these elements that will determine how you ultimately enjoy John Wick: Chapter 2.
The film picks up shortly after the events of the original, similar to the beginning of Quantum of Solace. After John Wick’s (Keanu Reeves) incredibly violent revenge saga, wherein he destroyed an entire mob family over a very important dog, he had some slightly unfinished business. The film drops you in the middle of a chase. Wick is pursuing a motorcyclists for reasons that shortly become apparent, and needless to say there is an incredible amount of vehicular mayhem in the first setpiece. Peter Stormare provides some colorful commentary about the nature of the avenging angel currently targeting his operation, to allow those girlfriends who were dragged to this movie to figure out who this Wick guy is, anyways. The plot picks up in earnest – very earnestly – after that and the film begins to give us glimpses into Wick’s past and his ‘Impossible Task’ that allowed him to escape the shadowy cabal of international spies, assassins and power that casts a long shadow over Wick’s world.
John Wick: Chapter 2 takes the very contained, New York city world of the first and opens it appropriately. John Wick travels to the far corners of Europe and back, the only sign of him ever being anywhere the trail of corpses he leaves behind. Bigger budget means bigger mayhem. The locations are all real world places; empty canvases on which to write a symphony of blood and violence. The world of John Wick brings us from the highest of high societies – there is an extended shootout in an art installation – to the lowest of New York’s literal underworld. He receives aid from an old ‘friend’ who keeps track of things via a network of very unassuming agents. It’s the kind of absurd plot point that would make John Carpenter smile with glee. No matter where he is, though, John Wick always wears that suit. Tailor made and fully bulletproof.
Keanu Reeves is not the best actor. He has very few expressions to work with. Luckily, Wick is a man of few expressions himself. And I think we rather prefer our hitmen to be somewhat robotic. This is the part he was born to play, and Reeves does it flawlessly. That he is a dedicated actor, mixing it up in fight scenes himself, is one of the film’s best strengths.
Then there are the headshots. As many point blank bullets to the face in the original, double it. The violence is beyond 11, perhaps even well past 12. In addition to the legions of goons that Wick oh so capably handles, via a brutal combination of hand-to-hand combat and up close and personal shots to the face, the mini-bosses he goes up against are particularly wonderful this time out. Cassian, the rapper Common, is a fellow hit-man turned bodyguard who has a professional friendship with Wick that is tested when a job comes between them. They have a knockdown, drag out brawl in the streets of Rome that ends in a wonderful way. And the deaf huntress Ares (Ruby Rose) is proof positive that anything a man can do, girls can do better. Wick and Ares’ little tetes and one-liners – all signed, of course – provide some of the film’s best humor.
In fact, there is too much violence in John Wick: Chapter 2, and there is not enough violence in John Wick: Chapter 2. All of it is balletic in style, yet after a time it grows almost tiresome. There is literally nothing that can stop John Wick. And when there isn’t a gun being fired or punch being thrown, the film drags. Chapter 2 is only two hours but it feels much, much longer due to the spastic nature of it: fast, fast, fast, then slow. It makes for a hell of a ride, and an enjoyable one, too. I know its short; a shorter film would make a better one.
Not since The Raid 2 have I heard as many ‘ohs!’ and ‘oh shits!’ and ‘oh no, he didn’ts!’ from a theater ever.
When John Wick: Chapter 2 is on point, it hits with the precision of a bullet to the head. One shot, one kill. The elements that made the first work are still there, amped up appropriately and if you liked those, you will like this. Unfortunately, Chapter 2 cracks under the weight of its expectations; it stresses a lot of the more tedious elements of the original. Not that that matters too much to the film’s core audience: there will doubtful be a more bombastic American action series in a long while. Bring on Chapter 3!