I can still remember the adrenaline coursing through my body as I came out of a screening of John Wick back in 2014. It felt like an action movie lover’s wet dream. It might not have reinvented the genre wheel but it absolutely gave it one powerful kick up its lazy ass. It served up a scrumptious full-course meal and never forgot to be massively entertaining and rollickingly fun. The meticulous world-building of a nefarious secret world of assassins is gleefully believable. Fast forward to 2017 and we enter willingly into Wick-verse again and lightning has struck the same spot twice!
The story picks up from where the first part ended, with John Wick finishing off the remnants of the Russian mob as he tries to get back the car that was stolen from him. Job done, he goes back into retirement. There is no rest for the Wick-ed as he soon finds himself unwillingly drawn back into the criminal underground to settle a blood debt. Not long later he finds out a huge bounty has been placed on his head and God have mercy on the slimeballs who stand in his way.
Revenge is no longer a motive and the plot of John Wick: Chapter 2 is just an excuse for Wick to administer a world of hurt on a plethora of assassins. The tone is established from the get-go with projected images from a silent comedy hailing from the bygone years as a motorcycle car chase goes on. The opening scene clearly draws a line from the physical comedy of Chaplin and Keaton to Wick’s wild careening into stylised cinematic violence. The ultra-violence may be cartoonish but it is never played for laughs. A real-world feel and an adherence to the laws of physics give the proceedings heft and weight.
Chapter 2 goes the way most sequels go; it ups the ante with Wick doing what he does best in a new exotic location, higher body count, more stylised violence that resembles a dance and expanding the intriguing world of hired killers introduced in the first movie. However, Chapter 2 doesn’t have that dreaded been-there-done-that feeling. Expositions are delivered with finesse and theatricality by the likes of Ian McShane and Laurence Fishburne. Sometimes what is unsaid goes a whole long way than when it does – like everywhere Wick goes, the legend precedes him and everybody greets him. There is never any need for a flashback because myths work best when they are in your head. There are some mighty nifty homages that any self-proclaimed action movie fan would catch immediately, like the climatic gun fight in rooms adorned with floor to ceiling mirrors which is a respectful prostrated bow towards Enter the Dragon and the “you have a choice” line uttered by Wick to Fishburne, an obvious cheeky nod towards The Matrix, the last time the two actors shared a screen together.
The action choreography is gorgeously visceral and the urban landscape is utilised in a refreshing manner. We still get a discotheque fight scene but it is updated with euro-dance beats, a bigger arena and different stakes. Watch out for a prolonged assassination sequence in Rome culminating in a they-come-in-waves shootout in the catacombs, lit up by diffused blue lights on the ground. A shootout between Wick and Cassian (Common) in a train station where commuters go about their business, not knowing a showdown has already taken place, had me in stitches. In the world of John Wick, anybody can be a world-class assassin including a beggar; anywhere can be a scene of a bloodbath, even a subway train and a museum; anything can be a weapon, including a pencil, a f*cking pencil. We feel the impact of every punch and the roar of every bullet as Wick double-taps every scumbag and puts one more in the head for completeness. The camera is neatly pulled back to let us ogle at the action as 52-year-old Keanu Reeves sliced, diced, stabbed, punched, rolled and tumbled his way through enemies in Armani suits. No bullets are wasted, reloading is a must and faceless henchmen don’t do a final pirouette before they die. There is none of that frenetic editing and shaky cam cheating moves which instantly elevate Chapter 2 way above its peers.
John Wick is a character that fits Keanu Reeves to a T. It plays to his strength – the stoicism, the monotonous diction, the stiff demeanour, the world weariness, the lanky body frame, the melancholic eyes. Reeves imbues the qualities marvellously and puts in a focused performance. Chapter 2 ends with a setup for another film that would usually have me feeling cheated and pissed, but dammit… I so wished Chapter 3 could start the moment this one ended.
4 / 5