“John Wick” was a fun, fresh 2014 action thriller that added its own little twist to the “boy and his dog” story. Okay, perhaps that’s a tad misleading. Instead let’s say it was a stylized shoot-em-up heavily influenced by Hong Kong cinema and the 1980s action genre. Personally speaking that is a tantalizing recipe and “John Wick” used it to violent bloody near perfection.
The surprising success of the film and eventual cult status lead to a sequel simply titled “John Wick: Chapter 2”. Former stuntman Chad Stahelski returns to direct and Derek Kolstad is back as screenwriter. Most importantly 52 year-old Keanu Reeves (yes, I said 52 years-old) reprises his role as the hard-boiled and well-dressed hitman John Wick. If you weren’t fully convinced of his tough guy status after the first film wait till you see him here.
“John Wick 2” ties up a few loose ends before launching into its own bullet-riddled story. Wick once again finds himself trying to get out of the hitman business, but an old blood oath comes back to haunt him. Weaselly crime boss Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) violently rejects Wick’s unwillingness to honor their pact which catapults John right back into the life he desperately wants to leave.
One of the real treats of “John Wick 2” is how it expands on its wild global underworld network of assassins which lies just under the crust of the world’s biggest cities (in this case New York City, Rome, and then back to the Big Apple). It’s an interconnected outfit with its own rules and codes many of which are shared by the delightfully droll Ian McShane. He returns as Winston, the “manager” of the Continental Hotel which is actually the network’s New York City kill-free headquarters. Other fun characters return including Lance Reddick as the hotel’s concierge and John Leguizamo as Wick’s chop-shop buddy.
There are some lively new faces as well. Lawrence Fishbourne is introduced as an underground crime lord hilariously called The Bowery King. Common plays a quiet yet lethal fellow assassin who shares some fantastic scenes with Reeves. There is also Ruby Rose (“Orange is the New Black”) as D’Antonio’s cartoonish but perfectly fitting mute enforcer.
In addition to the cool mythology and world-building is the energetic gun-fu action which sports a hypnotic choreography as elegantly composed as some of the best musicals. Here killing takes the place of dance and you have Keanu Reeves with a Glock instead of Gene Kelly with an umbrella. As silly as that sounds it’s actually pretty accurate. Stahelski’s stunt coordinator muscle never subverts his storytelling, but it does give us some spectacular set pieces. He also know Reeves well, having served as his stunt double on the “Matrix” trilogy. To make the action as authentic as possible Stahelski put Reeves through an extensive boot camp featuring martial arts, gun training, and driving. The payoff is a hoot.
I’ll be the first to admit that the “John Wick” movies have surprised me. They could have easily been your standard throw-away dreck. Instead they are films that meld a fresh new style with and old-school action nostalgia. “Chapter 2” has a fun time expanding on the first movie and being completely comfortable in the world it has created. There is a beautiful rhythm to the violence and the film never loses its self-awareness or tongue-in-cheek wit. All of that said “John Wick: Chapter 2” isn’t some groundbreaking piece of cinema, but it’s remarkably unique and it operates by its own rules at every turn. I really like that about it.
VERDICT – 4 STARS