D: Chad Stahelski / 122m
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Common, Ruby Rose, Claudia Gerini, Laurence Fishburne, Lance Reddick, Franco Nero, Peter Serafinowicz, Peter Stormare, John Leguizamo, Bridget Moynahan
In the surprise movie of 2014, Keanu Reeves made a bit of a comeback playing a retired assassin called John Wick. Brutally coerced into giving up a peaceful life as a widower after his wife, Helen (Moynahan), died from cancer, Wick had his car stolen and his dog – a puppy! – killed (not to mention being beaten up himself). He came out of retirement, dished out some serious retribution – killing a total of seventy-seven people (mostly unfortunate henchmen) in the process – and headed off into the sunrise.
Well, that’s what we thought he was doing. But as this amped-up, mercilessly nihilistic sequel shows, here’s what John actually did next. First there’s the small matter of retrieving his car from the uncle (Stormare) of the Russian gangster who stole his car in the first place. One warehouse full of wrecked cars and dead or suffering henchmen later, John has got his vehicle back and has managed to get it home where it can be rebuilt in all its former glory by John’s friend and chop shop specialist, Aurelio (Leguizamo). Job done, he says hello to his new dog, and he even re-buries the weapons he disinterred in the first movie. But just as he’s finished that, and is ready to resume his retirement, fate comes calling in the form of sequel nemesis, Santino D’Antonio (Scamarcia).
Santino wants John to honour a marker he has, the debt that John owes him for Santino’s help in John’s retirement. John refuses, but Santino is like a spoilt child who’s been told he can’t have his own way. As soon as he leaves he uses a rocket launcher to blow John’s house to smithereens (but don’t worry, this time John and the dog survive). Next stop for a seriously annoyed John is the Continental hotel, where assassins can meet, have a few drinks, rest up, and absolutely, positively not kill each other. Chided by hotel owner and mentor, Winston (McShane), for not accepting the marker, John meets with Santino and discovers that his target is Santino’s sister, Gianna (Gerini).
So, a less than happy John travels to Rome, meets up with Winston’s Italian counterpart, Julius (Nero), gets all kitted out – bulletproof suits are all the rage in Rome – and after wandering through a series of tunnels setting up an elaborate kill sequence for later, he finds Gianna. Her death ensues, and just as expected, John has to escape back through the tunnels while offing an astonishingly large amount of disposable henchmen (don’t they have a union?). On his tail is Santino’s right hand assassin, Ares (Rose), there to dispose of him as a “loose end”, and Cassian (Common), Gianna’s personal bodyguard, who has taken his employer’s death, well, personally. John avoids death several dozen times over, gets back to the Italian Continental, and manages to leave for New York with Julius’s help. But not before the scheming and deceitful Santino has taken out a contract on John’s life, a contract worth $7m to anyone who can do what no one else has even come close to doing: killing the Boogeyman himself.
There’s more to the story, but in actuality it doesn’t amount to much, peppered as it is with an extended sequence of multiple mayhems at a train station – John and Cassian casually shooting at each other over the heads of blissfully unaware travellers is both comical and disturbing in equal measure – a reunion for ex-Matrix co-stars Reeves and Laurence (“Don’t call me Larry”) Fishburne, and yet another extended shootout in a museum, which features a genuinely disorientating sequence in an exhibition wing full of mirrored hallways and rooms. It’s all impossibly loud and garish and there’s not even the hint of a policeman hoving into view at any moment (though we do get to see a returning Jimmy the patrolman ask John if he’s “working”).
But plausibility and noting the absence of any laws that don’t pertain to the life of an assassin aren’t exactly the movie’s main interest. John Wick: Chapter 2 has one mission statement and one mission statement only: to provide its audience with as many over the top, seriously insane fight sequences as it can squeeze into its two hour running time. There are moments when the movie is absolutely bat-shit crazy in its determination to make viewers exclaim “Holy f*ck!” at the positively insane levels of violence on display, whether it’s John taking out a motorcyclist with a car door, or dispatching another assassin with a pencil; it’s all designed to up the ante for modern day action thrillers, and put other like-minded movie makers on notice: this is what you have to surpass.
Whether anyone else can or will match the violent excesses that John Wick can come up with is debatable – and that’s without the inevitable Chapter 3 to consider as well. Under the guidance of returning screenwriter Derek Kolstad and director Chad Stahelski, John Wick: Chapter 2 is a riot: bigger, bolder, more exhausting than its predecessor, and yet leavened by healthy doses of humour when it’s needed. It’s not to all tastes, and some viewers will be put off by the obvious “gun love” on display, not to mention the number of close up head shots that are sprayed (literally) throughout the movie. But this is a movie that’s unashamedly for fans of high body counts, sneering villains who’ll definitely get their come-uppance, brutal fight sequences, and beautifully art-directed and surreal backdrops for said sequences.
The world that John Wick and his contemporaries inhabit is not the same world that we inhabit (though it has its similarities, obviously). In it, a man can be shot in the stomach and still see off multiple attackers. But thanks to a script that’s much cleverer in its design and intent than most people are likely to give it credit for, this is a sequel that delivers on the promise of its predecessor, and adds a whole new level of shock and awe, while also expanding on the world it takes place in. It’s almost the perfect sequel, giving the returning audience more of what it liked first time round and much more besides. If there are criticisms to be made then they’ll relate to the suddenness of the airport sequences and how they’re edited together (clumsily in places), and the continuing idea that John Wick is a ghost, the boogeyman that no one sees coming, when everyone he meets says, “Ah, Mr Wick”.
It all ends on a promise, one that will have fans clamouring for the makers to hurry up, and naysayers burying their heads in their hands in despair. But again, this is a movie made for fans of the original, a demographic that has apparently grown since 2014. At time of writing, John Wick: Chapter 2 has already made half of what the first movie made overall, and in just four days of release. And whatever you might say about Reeves’ acting ability, or the absurdity of the shootouts and one man overcoming all odds, this is a movie that delivers a ridiculous amount of adrenalin-fuelled turmoil and does so with an enormous amount of chutzpah. There really isn’t anything else out there to touch it.
Rating: 9/10 – that rare beast, a superior sequel, John Wick: Chapter 2 opens up the throttle in the first frenzied fifteen minutes, and barely lets up for the next hour and forty-five minutes; simply put, it does what it says on the tin, and then pumps an extra shot in for good measure.