John Wick, the ultra-violent 2014 action flick that starred Keanu Reeves as a cool, taciturn, ruthlessly efficient and seemingly invincible assassin, was something of a guilty pleasure and a surprise hit at the box office. So now we get this sequel, which once again takes us into this shadowy world of assassins and their strange codes of honour. And this time the filmmakers up the ante.
John Wick: Chapter 2 takes up almost immediately after the events of the original film in which the titular hero had taken down a swathe of Russian mafiosa types who had killed his wife and dog and stolen his precious 1969 Mustang coupe. When the film opens, Wick sets out to recover his car from a chop shop run by another Russian gangster (Peter Stormare). There is plenty of carefully choreographed martial arts action and fight sequences here as Wick takes down a veritable army of thugs before negotiating the return of his car.
Wick then intends to retire from the business permanently. But then he is approached by slimy Italian mafia boss Santino D’Antonio (Italian heartthrob Riccardo Scamarcio, from Loose Cannons, etc) to whom he owes a favour. According to this mysterious world of assassins and their codes of honour, any debt must be repaid. Initially Wick refuses, but then D’Antonio blows up his house. Wick reluctantly agrees to the assignment, which is basically to kill D’Antonio’s sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini) so that he can take her place at the “High Table”, the council of powerful assassins that runs this world. But in carrying out the hit Wick has violated one of the key rules, and quickly finds that a bounty of $7million has been placed on his head. And lots of assassins and hitmen come crawling out of the darkness to try and collect the reward.
Cue two hours of violence and gun play as Wick deals with these threats. John Wick 2 is a very violent film, with plenty of nonstop action and clinically staged carnage. The film has a high body count and more head shots than a supermodel’s portfolio. The screenplay from Derek Kolstad (who also scripted the original) ups the ante here with a bigger and bolder approach to the action. He also gives us more insights into this strange labyrinthine underworld of assassins, which apparently dates back several centuries, and where gold coins are the currency. He also gives us more of the mythology and history of the chic Hotel Continental, which is neutral territory for these assassins where any form of gunplay or business is strictly forbidden. And the climactic showdown between Wick and D’Antonio takes place in a hall of mirrors.
Also returning for this sequel is director Chad Stahelski, who hails from a background in mixed martial arts and who has worked as a stunt co-ordinator. He was also Reeve’s stunt double in The Matrix trilogy. He brings a fluid style and ballet like precision to the action sequences, which are shot in clear, crisp fashion. But he also suffuses the material with traces of sly knowing humour. The film has a more international flavour this time as the action moves away from New York to the beautiful location of Rome. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen (Crimson Peak, etc) gives the film a slick and sleek visual surface and captures some great vistas of the city with his seductive widescreen lensing.
Reeves does not have the build of those action heroes of the 80s or 90s, the likes of Schwarzenegger or Van Damme and the like, but he brings an appropriate physicality to the role that works. This is his first sequel since The Matrix series, but he is perfect as the taciturn hitman. He hints at the conflicts that drive his character.
Returning are John Leguizamo, reprising his role as Aurelio, Wick’s mechanic; Lance Reddick as Charon, the Continental’s suave concierge; and Deadwood’s Ian McShane as Winston, the kingpin of this world who enforces the rules and regulations. The solid support cast includes Reeves’ Matrix co-star Laurence Fishburne in a small role as the Bowery King, a pigeon-loving head of a gang of street assassins in New York and former enemy of Wick; Ruby Rose as Ares, a mute assassin; rapper Common as Gianna’s loyal bodyguard Cassian; and Franco Nero as the manager of Rome’s Hotel Continental, where Wick stays.
If you like your action fast and furious and violent, then John Wick: Chapter 2 is just the movie for you!
Director: Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane
Release Date: 18 May 2017
Rating: MA 15+
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television