Review: John Wick: Chapter 2

The puppy-friendly assassin is back, John Wick (Keanu Reeves), and although he aims to retire having completed one last job and put away his ‘tools’, underworld figure Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) comes calling for Mr. Wick to pay a debt. When Wick refuses, the gangster blows up Wick’s house. Wick goes to visit his friendly syndicate head Winston (Ian McShane) who insists Wick pay the ‘marker’/debt or risk being completely ex-communicated. The job? Assassinate Santino’s sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini). After the deed is done however, Wick realises he now has a target and sizeable bounty on his head as assassins and assorted crims come out left and right to take him out, including Santino and his mute sniper (Aussie ‘celebrity’ Ruby Rose), as well as Gianna’s chief bodyguard/hitman Cassian (Common), an old foe of Wick’s. Peter Stormare appears briefly at the beginning as Wick’s ‘unfinished business’, ‘Spaghetti Western’ veteran Franco Nero turns up momentarily as the owner of the Italian branch of the infamous underworld hotel, The Continental, Lance Riddick is once again the concierge, and John Leguizamo again appears as Wick’s favourite car guy.

I was surprisingly engaged by the first “John Wick”, which played like a mixture of early Steven Seagal flick and “The Punisher”-style hardened comic book actioner. This 2017 follow-up from the returning trio of star Keanu Reeves, screewriter Derek Kolstad (also a veteran scribe of Dolph Lundgren films), and director Chad Stahelski (Reeves’ “Matrix” stunt double) doesn’t see much of a drop in entertainment value, either. That’s even more of a surprise to me, to be honest. Yes, the slightly heightened, almost comic book nature of the criminal underworld does remind one a little too much of a scuzzy “Kingsman”, but the whole thing is so pricelessly macho you can’t help but be amused by it all.

We open with a fun car vs. motorbike chase shot well by cinematographer Dan Laustsen (“Brotherhood of the Wolf”, “Crimson Peak”) set on neon-lit busy streets at night, and within the first five minutes we even get that old standard line: ‘…but he’s just ONE man!’, straight out of a vintage Seagal film. John Wick’s reputation has already preceded him. After just 10 minutes, Wick has proven himself more bad arse than ever, and downright deadly behind the wheel of a car. There’s a particularly brilliant bit early on where after causing massive destruction to it and everything else, Wick gets back into his beaten up car and drives off. Even funnier? He’s clearly got plenty of other cars in his garage. Meanwhile, it’s inevitable that Peter Stormare would turn up here (briefly, albeit) as the brother of Michael Nyqvist’s villain from the first film. It’s a shame he and former WWE Superstar Oleg Prudius (AKA Vladimir Kozlov) are given next to no screen time. The former is usually good scummy value in films of varying degrees of artistic merit. The latter, meanwhile, could’ve been this film’s Prof. Toru Tanaka (sumo-looking guy from a lot of 80s action movies, usually starring Chuck Norris) or something. The now incredibly jacked-looking former wrestler and sambo practitioner would’ve made a memorable henchman for Wick to eventually defeat near the finale. Instead Prudius gets his knees shot to hell in mere seconds. But like I said, this is so compulsively uber-macho that you can’t help but enjoy it. I mean, John Wick doesn’t just put his weapons away, so determined to stay retired he buries his weapons under fucking cement in his basement. Love it. Of course, seconds afterwards he’s somehow pulled back into the life when slimy Riccardo Scamarcio (not bad, and looking like a prettier Javier Bardem) and assassin Ruby Rose turn up to give him an incentive. Thankfully no one kills the dog this time, they just blow up every reminder Wick has left of his wife in his house. Yeah, that’s asking for trouble, guys. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate great cinema like “Citizen Kane”, “Vertigo”, and “The Elephant Man”, but I’ll make no apologies for thoroughly enjoying watching Wick blast his way out of a nightclub with bloodthirsty abandon. It’s a helluva thing to see. I mean, does he know for sure that those aren’t innocent bystanders he’s killing?

On the downswing, Ruby Rose plays a deaf assassin because she can’t act with dialogue. Much better is a returning Common as Wick’s rival. It’s just a shame that, like the aforementioned Prudius, Common proves to be completely outmatched and fairly quickly dispatched because he’s really good in the role. Elsewhere, Ian McShane is terrific as the tea-drinking underworld boss, and we get an awesome cameo by Laurence Fishburne as a well-connected pigeon fancier. Well, sort-of. Not really, he is terrific in the role, though. Franco Nero, of all people turns up and he’s actually quite good, so it’s a shame his role…isn’t. As for our star? It’s a funny thing. Keanu Reeves doesn’t put in much of a performance here…and for once it’s the right call. John Wick has been through such hell by the time we pick up again with him in this film and lost so much before and during this film, that it makes sense that this guy would be kind of a soulless killer at this point. A ghost, even. In a film containing a huge body count full of heads going splat (seriously there are countries with less people than get dispatched in this), Wick gets hit by more cars in this film with no discernible damage to his body than I’ve ever seen. He seems indestructible; Cars don’t kill him, assassins trying to kill him (plenty of them) don’t kill him, despite landing several of their shots. John Wick may in fact be a spectre of death here, if you ask me. None of this is a complaint. It’s gloriously, violently silly and great fun to watch someone so good at their ‘craft’ as Mr. Wick.

Two films in and this series is already better than “The Matrix” trilogy which only had one really good film (the first), one crap film (the second), and one slightly underrated film (the third, but don’t tell anyone I said that). This one’s 2-2 so far. I had good non-think fun with this one. It’s even more ricockulous and splendiferously silly than the first film, which really takes some doing. Quality-wise, it might be just a hair below but only because the first film was leaner and, by being first, more original.

Rating: B-


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