Starring: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Common, Claudia Gerini, Lance Reddick, Laurence Fishburne, Tobias Segel, John Leguizamo, Franco Nero, Peter Serafinowicz, Bridget Moynahan.
Director: Chad Stahelski
Rating: R (for strong violence throughout, some language and brief nudity.)
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Release Date: February 10, 2017
Thunder Road Pictures, 87Eleven, Lionsgate, and Summit Entertainment.
Written by: Derek Kolstad, based on characters created by Derek Kolstad.
There is a brutal elegance of John Wick: Chapter 2 that calls to mind mid-1990s B-movie mayhem, ludicrous violence, the unrelenting action of a Bruce Lee-style action movie and dry, droll moments of humor that leave us shaking our heads in amused disbelief. While the level of violence will turn away some viewers, this sequel to the surprise 2014 box office smash brings Keanu Reeves back to the big screen as the feared killer, known around the criminal underworld as “The Boogeyman.”
After the surprising success and still emerging cult appeal of the first John Wick film with audiences around the globe, director Chad Stahelski and screenwriter Derek Kolstad are back, upping the death count, running time, and chaotic action sequences to new heights. After a thrilling chase opens the proceedings, taking place just a few days after the end of the previous film, John strikes an unexpected truce that wraps up unresolved issues from “Chapter One”, gets him his 1969 Mustang back, and introduces the tried-and-true storyline that our friendly assassin is finally ready to hang up the ammo and call it quits.
Or so he thinks.
As is always the case with films of this nature, the newly retired hitman is drawn back out. And here, Wick is reminded of a blood oath he took to serve a secret society of assassins’ needs and wishes. He is confronted by a power hungry Italian crime boss, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), furious that his recently deceased father bequeathed a “seat at the high table” to his sister (Claudia Gerini) and not him. When Wick refuses, repeatedly stating “I’m out,” D’Antonio asserts his will and Wick is back in the game.
In terms of premise, we have seen dozens of John Wick-style movies. Here, Stahelski and Kolstad move past a relatively subdued first 30-40 minutes, then bring the ruckus – they amp up the camp, carnage, and cartoonish elements of Chapter 2 to dizzying proportions. Once the film’s more chaotic moments arrive, Reeves goes almost nuclear, brandishing guns, a few knives, but mostly guns, as if he is channeling Bruce Lee himself in the martial art master’s finest moments. Wick decimates over a hundred (two hundred, perhaps?) different attackers, with the 52-year-old Reeves impressively handling a majority of his own stunts and martial arts choreography.
Reeves looks reborn, playing this character, and he feels loose, freewheeling, almost as if he is playing with house money. He spits 2-3 word phrases at a time and every statement he makes is uttered with a hardened tone and definitive menace. After awhile, this cadence and rhythm becomes intoxicating and wildly entertaining. One scene, in particular, finds Wick traveling through an underground world catering to the whims and wants of this proverbial secret assassin’s guild. He finds tailors, weapons dealers, seamstresses, bankers – all ready, willing, and able to cater to their guest’s every need. The “sommelier” who deals guns like fine wine is a specific delight.
Rogue figures exist on the periphery, including Winston (Ian McShane), a hotel manager who oversees the guild’s rules and protocols, as well as the personal security guard for Santino’s sister (Common), who proves a worthy adversary to Wick’s attacks. Ruby Rose shines as the mute, sign-language using Ares, the leader of Santino’s personal army. Then, we get a scene-stealing Laurence Fishburne, apparently blasting in from some other movie entirely, vamping and riffing with great joy as he reappears alongside Reeves, his Matrix co-star.
Though a great deal of fun, the problem with John Wick: Chapter 2 is that it bites off a bit more than it is ready to chew. At 122 minutes, the film could have used another run through the editing bay and the “gun-fu” moments grow ever so tiresome as the violence starts to almost double back on itself.
Stahelski has improved his ability to frame and execute an action sequence though, and the brawls and fights here are brilliantly staged. Reeves is clearly having a ball with all of this, and frankly, so is everyone else. So maybe it is not the worst thing in the world when the film pivots to a “Chapter 3” set-up and tease. (And yes, John Wick: Chapter 3 is already in production).
Whether pausing to remember a personal tragedy, calling his pitbull puppy up on the bed for a cuddle, or systematically decimating hundreds of adversaries, Reeves exudes natural charisma and likability in a role where his lack of humor and cold-blooded activities thrive in a blood-squib wonderland of revenge and villainy.
SHOULD I SEE IT?
- Fans of John Wick should strap in and buckle up for a two-hour R-rated thrill ride and a throwback, yet modern, action flick.
- Keanu Reeves is a joy to watch here and his investing in this character and role is a true delight.
- It is hard to pinpoint why these movies work so well, but there is just something in the atmosphere that Chad Stahelski and David Kolstad create that is undeniably entertaining.
- The violence may prove to be too much for some viewers.
- Some may feel this is just more of the same as the first film, failing to move anything along and trying to catch lightning in a bottle a second time.
- Is there really a point to any of this? Looking for meaning in John Wick movies is a fortuitous affair, but there should be something of a point to this and I’m not entirely sure any of this means all that much. For some, that will be completely okay.