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To call the first film in the series a surprise hit might be a bit of an understatement, a film that reveled purposefully in tropes, only to discover some new ways to make it all work by redefining much of what the genre has come to be known for. It also gave its star a new lease in some respects, by putting him in precisely the right setting and story, one to which he breathed a great deal of life. With John Wick: Chapter 2, in what would seem even more surprising, the filmmakers manage to do one better, bringing ‘The Boogeyman’ and the genre to all new heights.
It begins where the last ended, as hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) goes after the men of the Russian mob who stole his beloved 1969 Boss 429 Mustang. Dispatching them with relative ease, he works his way to Abram Tarasov (Peter Stormare), sparing his life and declaring peace. The sentiment is returned and a good retirement wished as they part, even as the car is left in less than perfect condition. However, not long after, once home, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), an Italian crime lord looking for Wick to make good on a blood oath he made years earlier, comes calling, claiming the lavish home Wick has settled in is indebted to him and the marker Wick used to get out of the game.
Wick declines, initially, but when his house is leveled by an explosion, he reconsiders, taking what would seem an impossible task, though when it’s all over, the job doesn’t grant him the peace he had hoped. Both a powerful enforcer of Santino, named Ares (Ruby Rose), sent to tie up lose ends, and a bodyguard named Cassian (Common) of the woman Wick is hired to kill take after him. With a sizable bounty now on his had, Wick goes to war as hitman come out of the woodwork, looking to reap the rewards.
Directed by Chad Stahelski, back in the chair helming the sequel, John Wick: Chapter 2 is a brutal, sensational piece of action that never suppresses its cartoon-inspired lunacy while at the same time, keeping itself serious enough to feel surprisingly authentic, drawing upon a number of influences while setting out to establish many of their own. This includes broadening the universe where it exists, deepening the lore and generating a fantastic set of rules and infrastructure that give the story a great sense of place, even if it all is “underground” to the real world layered over it.
Violence can often be the breaking point for how successful a film’s style can be, with many of cinema’s best purveyors of that action working it like its part of the narrative. Stahelski, who has been working in stunts since 1991, and as Reeve’s stunt double since Point Break, understands that the body count is only the means to an end, a way to prop up the mythology of Wick while celebrating his almost surgical precision in doing his job. But what Reeves does with it is why it works as well as it does. Aged and carrying a career’s worth of action films on his back, he becomes Wick in ways that betray much of our expectations, creating something special in a role that takes the greatest advantage of Reeves as an actor in ways perhaps no film has ever done before.
It helps that he’s surrounded by a terrific cast who bring much to the film, including Ian McShane, the owner of the Continental hotel in New York City that runs the secret operation of honorable but deadly members. He’s clearly enjoying the role, as are Rose and Common, and a brief but amusing scene with Laurence Fishburne, who you’ll recall was last seen with Reeves in the Matrix trilogy.
But in the end, it’s the sheer energy and visual audacity of the film that breaks new ground, never feeling like it wants to be the movie’s calling card but rather something subtle, always allowing the characters to keep hold of the reigns. From an electrifying scene where Wick suits up for warfare as if he’s ordering fine dining to a sequence in a hall of mirrors that feels as fresh as if it were done the first time instead of the cliché that it really is, the movie packs huge punch. That’s the movie magic of John Wick: Chapter 2. Old things are seen like new. It’s a thrilling experience.
Movie description: John Wick: Chapter 2 is a 2017 action thriller sequel about an infamous hitman who is forced out of retirement to repay an old debt while a bounty has been put on his life.
Director(s): Chad Stahelski
Actor(s): Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane
Genre: Actino, Thriller