Film Review – John Wick: Chapter 2
John Wick: Chapter 2
In 1986, Chinese filmmaker John Woo dropped the action film A Better Tomorrow on the world and helped give birth to a movement of action films made in Hong Kong that lasted for the better part of the next decade. When these film began reaching the shores of the USA in the form usually of vhs bootlegs, it grew a cult following that has since longed to see the specific type of action: gunplay and stunts combined with unusually high body counts, incorporated into the Hollywood film system. John Wick, released in 2014, twenty-eight years after A Better Tomorrow, did more than just remind us all how much fun it is to watch Keanu Reeves fire up the screen, it also delivered some of the best bullet-ballet action sequences and straight-up on-screen violence in an American made action film since.
Unbridled and seemingly unhinged, John Wick delivered its nihilistic carnage with a slick veneer and a mood of cool, alongside a tongue-in-cheek, foot stomping soundtrack. But now the titular character is back in John Wick: Chapter 2, picking up mostly where the previous movie left off. There’s still a slight bit of unfinished business for Wick (Reeves) to attend to before he can fully retire. In a style similar to the previous movie, this one opens with action already in motion. The audience is brought up to speed and Wick doles out an avenging justice, allowing him to start moving back on with his life, post his wife’s death. However, before setting on his quest for vengeance for the death of his dog and the theft of his car, Wick was warned by the underworld overlord, Winston (Ian McShane), that such a quest would result in Wick being unwittingly dragged back into the life he left behind. And that dragging has come calling.
Imposed to a debt he can’t ignore, Wick is charged with the job of killing mob boss, Gianna D’Antonio (Claudia Gerini), by her brother Santonio (Riccardo Scamarcio). And while this is in many ways the setup for the movie, it’s really more of a springboard to take the character, and the world he inhabits to a perhaps unexpected place. I say perhaps because a sequel in a fashion like this, to a movie about a guy who seeks revenge for the death of his puppy, is ripe for rehash fodder. A premise of maybe Wick’s new dog gets knocked off, or maybe he gets a cat and that gets targeted is kind of right there, a mere flimsy excuse to watch this gun-fu, as it’s been called. Instead though, director Chad Stahelski along with writer Derek Kolstad have fashioned something that you’d almost expect to see in a sci-fi/fantasy franchise, like The Matrix, by exploring both more of Wick’s world and his place in it.
The first movie makes clear and establishes the fact Wick lives in a society with a secret and perhaps vast underworld. Chapter 2 shows us how large that secret world is, or at least gives us a larger picture. And such as its place as a sequel that’s perhaps aiming for a Hero’s Journey type tale goes, Wick himself is hyperbolically forced to face a darkness within. The tone is a bit more serious this time around and the music, more somber and less amped, accompanied by the set-pieces, a posh rave amongst ancient ruins, catacombs and a climatic location that carries some overt symbolism, provide something seeking to be as dire as perhaps a Russian novel. But it’s also a kick-ass action movie that’s incorporating gun play and stunts rarely, if ever, seen like this in an American action movie.
There are a few returning characters like McShane’s Winston and John Leguizamo’s Aurelio, but there are also a handful of new characters like Cassian, played with cool precision by Common, who also shows an impressive ability at onscreen fighting. Scenes where Cassian and Wick face off are some of the movie’s finest. There’s also the addition of Ares (Ruby Rose), a mute hitperson charged with bringing down Wick. There are a few surprise characters that show up, but seeing that happen is half the fun. Well actually like two-thirds of the fun is watching Reeves squeeze off rounds with acrobatic precision into would-be attackers heads, but unlike the first movie this one is not as action intensive. That isn’t to say there isn’t enough action, there’s plenty, it’s just more spaced out and not as often. But what is there may be more crazy, insane than what was delivered before. Reeve’s wears the weight of Wick’s burdens in his eyes, and it shows well among the aerial blood splatter and gun bang. In almost every way this surpasses its predecessor. Which in no way should be seen as detracting from the original, and only as praise to why you really should be in the theater right now watching this.