You stabbed the devil in the back. To him this isn’t vengeance, this is justice.
If you liked John Wick, you’re going to love John Wick Chapter 2. The movie picks up shortly after the first movie. John Wick, played by Keanu Reeves, is still angry, still out for vengeance and still, hell bent on getting back his classic mustang. He’s physically healed from the first movie but, psychological wounds run deep. Wick is still a bad, bad, man. The Boogeyman as assassin incarnate. And he might need some professional counseling for all that inner rage. At least he’s a got a new dog.
He just wants to retire and live out the rest of his life now that he’s avenged the killing of the puppy, from the first movie, given to him by his deceased wife. But reentering the assassin game even for a brief moment leaves him open to the obligations of the culture.
Before he can re-retire an old benefactor comes calling with the intention of having John Wick make good on a marker. The benefactor asks John to kill his sister so he may take her place on the high table/council, a shadowy governing body that ensures territories are maintained and rules are followed. Because without rules we’d be just like the animals. John Wick can make good on the marker or he can refuse. Refusing the marker makes him a dead man, running makes him a dead man, and yet — John refuses. In the end he knows there are no real choices, if he won’t do it, he will be forced to do it. That’s how we begin our further immersion into the clandestine world of John Wick’s international assassins.
Chapter 2 succeeds because we are given a richer back story for all individuals involved. The Continental, the hotels and purveyors of all things assassin, are given a chance to shine as Wick travels to Rome to accomplish his mission.
A quick segue to mention that the production design of the Brotherhood/Governing Infrastructure of the world of assassins places it halfway between steampunk and early computing technology. The work of Kevin Kavanaugh wraps this entity in an embrace of pneumatic tubes, cathode ray screens pulsing in 1970s green and Ma Bell era switchboards worthy of the tattooed Suicide Girls manning the desks.
The action is brutal, tactical and very visceral. Yet none of it, though it is stylized, seems too over the top. There is no fantastical wirework ala the Matrix. All bullets are counted, clips are changed and guns discarded. The director, production team and the stunt coordinators have done a great deal of math to ensure the tactics work and everything has been mapped out — from the comfort of actors/stuntmen with their weapons, to the blood spatter and destruction of background scenery.
It’s as it should be. If the characters in John Wick 2 are assassins then their shots should all be kill shots. There is a close monitoring of gunfire and it’s used in short bursts. For the most part, people go down when they are shot. They feel the pain when they are stabbed. And all the close quarters combat feels very real.
Gun enthusiasts have given their seal of approval to the way guns are depicted in the movie. Wick 2 is one of the few movies that have come close to showing what real firefights and battles with tactical weapons should look like on film. Stuntmen have also given Reeves high marks for his adherence to training so that his handling of firearms looks natural. He’s doing a bulk of his own stunts, including the hand to hand combat. While most actors need to stop after 2–3 moves, Reeves has reportedly been able to remember and string together much longer sequences making filming more productive and fluid.
Action for the sake of action becomes tedious. To combat this, the narrative in Wick 2 supplies just enough to keep things moving forward and motivations compelling. The basic plot can be described as follows, “After returning to the criminal underworld to repay a debt, John Wick discovers that a large bounty has been put on his life.”
Peter Stomare cameos, playing Abram, the brother of the underworld boss who felt John Wick’s wrath in the first movie. Lance Reddick returns as Charon, the night clerk of the Continental — the hotel upon which grounds no assassin business can be conducted. Ian McShane is Winston the manager of the Continental and all its related storefronts. Their respective performances flesh out the the world of assassins.
The core cast that have really inhabited their roles. Ricardo Scamarcio stands out as the main villan willing John Wick to kill his sister. His performance not only makes us believe he is that evil, it serves as a release valve for any of us who have wished they could punch his real life counterparts. In inhabiting the character of Santonio D’Antionio, Scamarcio has managed to channel all that we hate about Martin Shkreli, Milo Yiannopoulos, Richard Spencer and Donald Trump into a delicious amalgam of privileged Eurotrash. His smug smile alone is enough to encite anger.
Common turns in a laudable performance as Cassian, a opponent worthy of John Wick, though maybe not as ruthless. He is convincing and acts like the perfect foil, letting us know John Wick is not invincible.
Ruby Rose plays Ares, Santonio D’Antonio’s head of security with a quiet reserve. Maybe it’s because her character is a mute who communicates only in sign language, mouthed words and dagger inducing looks but, if looks could kill John Wick would already be dead. There seems to be an undercurrent of attraction between Ares and John Wick but, the movie smartly avoids throwing them in bed, preferring instead to allow them to silently flirt. Only flirting with a beauty like Ares could get you killed.
Last but not least, Keanu Reeves reprises his role as John Wick. Playing to his strengths, Reeves takes advantage of the characters stoic nature making this role a perfect fit. Playing the dual role of producer and actor, Reeves has managed to carve out a performance that makes John Wick a franchise worthy of a trilogy.
After watching John Wick 2, I can whole heartedly say it is worthy of your 2017 “must watch” list. (if you’re into action movies)