MOVIE: JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2
STARRING: KEANU REEVES; IAN MCSHANE; COMMON; RUBY ROSE
DIRECTED BY: CHAD STAHELSKI
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
I have been watching Keanu Reeves kick ass and take names since I was a teenager. From his time as a “bogus dude” in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, to telling Dennis Hopper “pop quiz hot shot!” in Speed, and putting his stamp on the sci-fi genre as The Matrix warrior Neo, needless to say, I've been thoroughly entertained. In his most recent work, John Wick: Chapter 2, Reeves succeeds again, raising the bar after the surprise hit of 2014's first installment- John Wick. In his well tailored suit, he continues to remind me, and audiences, how much of an action star he is. After all, this is a master at the art of hand to hand combat and knows how to make a character his own.
The opening sequence picks up where the original left off, with Wick pursuing a man on a motorcycle to retrieve his 1969 Mustang from Russian drug lord Abram (a scene chewing Peter Stormare). He runs over henchman, knees a few in the head, and leaves a lot of bodies on the floor. Any thought of Mr. Wick going back to his comfy home to snuggle up with his new dog is a pipe dream. Mafia head Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) calls Wick on their marker to kill his powerful sister-Gianna (Claudia Gerini) for his seat at the table. When John refuses, a nudge is given in the form of his home being blown to pieces. Saying yes is of course a catch-22, because killing Gianna will only give Santino reason to send professional killers after Wick. In a world of assassins there is no such thing as “loose ends”.
Director and former stuntman Chad Stahelski is back conducting an action packed, blood fest symphony, in fascinating fashion. It all works because of Keanu. He is a badass, a vessel, in the form of a bearded, stalking, and towering boogeyman. He fights in the Roman catacombs, using enraged and hard nosed choreography. There is a unique mixture here of MMA style fighting, a plethora of weaponry- including a bullet proof 3-piece suit, and carnage that keeps the audience alert. Although John Wick: Chapter 2 may lack the initial impact and motivation of a dead dog that the original had, Stahelski and Reeves ratchet up the fun making it about Wick's survival. Strong aesthetics are on display in varying, colorful set pieces, a spectacular sound mix that shakes your body, and cartoon violence that is often shocking. When you watch a John Wick movie you leave the theater with a full serving of action.
Wick succeeds at killing his target and things only become increasingly difficult. Santino sends a ransom to the secret underworld of assassins, headed by Winston (Ian McShane) at the killers hotel known as The Continental, to the tune of 7 million dollars. Now, every high paid hitman, bearded soldier, and tattooed villain is looking for Wick. It leads to three of the films great highlights: Two back and forth street fights between Wick and hitman Cassian (Common), including a stop in a bar for a friendly drink, and a climactic fight with a sign language badass named Ares (Orange is the New Black star Ruby Rose) in a twisting hall of mirrors. These battles leave our hero banged and bruised, but in between the clumsiness is a beautiful grace that makes fisticuffs an art form. He seeks refuge from a seemingly homeless man known as the Bowery King- (a Matrix reunion with Lawrence Fishburn), but as this world goes, friends do not really exist.
Ultimately, John Wick: Chapter 2 is a strong follow-up for a growing, legendary character. It relishes in it's carnage like Hardcore Henry (without the dizziness) and takes pride in it's cinematic inspirations, such as 2014's The Raid 2 or Charles Bronson in Death Wish. One thing is for sure: Keanu Reeves continues to stamp his place in our cinematic memory. He leaves us in anticipation to turn the page to John Wick: Chapter 3.