Summit Entertainment/Thunder Road Pictures/87Eleven Productions
Directed by Chad Stahelski
Produced by Basil Iwanyk/Erica Lee
Written by Derek Kolstad
Music by Tyler Bates/Joel J. Richard
Cinematography by Dan Laustsen
Edited by Evan Schiff
The first “John Wick” movie has astounding action, outrageous fight scenes, enough Gun Fu to satisfy John Woo and truly amazing stunts. And that’s usually enough to suck me in. As I said in my review of that movie, I’m really digging the recent action movies that are throwbacks to the lean and mean Classic Action Cinema of the 1980s. They’re being done with a minimum of CGI and heavy on the practical effects and stunt work. There’s an exhilaration that comes from watching a fight scene or car chase or extended shootout and you know that these are actual people performing these stunts and that it wasn’t cooked up in a computer. Not that I mind the CGI spectacles, mind you. I’m just glad that other kinds of Action Movies are being made.
But what elevated “John Wick” and set it apart from other Action Movies are the tantalizing glimpses we got into the fascinating secret underworld John Wick has to rejoin. Part of this underworld is The Continental, a world wide hotel chain that serves as neutral territory for criminals, assassins, hit men (and hit women). If you’re on the wrong side of the law, then The Continental is for you to spend a restful night or weekend while planning your next score or hit. The New York branch is run by Winston (Ian McShane) who strictly enforces the rules of The High Table, a council of the world’s most powerful crime lords who apparently rule the criminal underworld. It’s the enforcement of these rules that force John Wick (Keanu Reeves) to put back on the black suit and pick up his guns again after he’s reburied them in the basement of his house.
And actually, I think the movie wastes a lot of time with John Wick again retiring and vowing to never again kill and hanging up his guns. Because all that means is that we’ve got to find a reason to get him back into the black suit and pick up his guns again. And that comes in the form of one Santino D’Antonio, an Italian crime lord who wants John to kill his sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini) so that he can claim her seat at The High Table. John refuses and D’Antonio takes umbrage with this. So much so that he blows up John’s house with a rocket launcher. At least he didn’t kill John’s new dog which he acquired at the end of the previous movie.
You see, D’Antonio has a Marker. It’s a medallion that contains a thumbprint of John’s blood. It represents an oath sworn on that blood that the holder of the Marker can demand a favor, any favor from the one whose blood it is. John begs to be let out of the oath and D’Antonio (quite reasonably, I think) says that he was perfectly willing to forget The Marker as long as John stayed retired. But since he un-retired himself…que sera sera. And John gets no sympathy at all from Winston as rejecting the contract of The Marker is one of the rules of The High Table. One of the two that simply cannot be broken. We’ll get to the other.
John travels to Rome to fulfill his obligation and upon his return to New York discovers that D’Antonio has double-crossed him by placing a $7 million bounty on John’s head on the pretext that he is avenging his sister. This naturally sends wave after wave of assassins after John as well as Cassian (Common) Gianna’s loyal bodyguard who fought John in Rome and is looking for his own revenge. John sets out on a blood-soaked trail to find and kill D’Antonio for his betrayal but to do so may involve him breaking that other unbreakable rule I mentioned earlier: No violence of any kind is permitted or tolerated on the premises of The Continental.
As I said earlier, what really intrigues me about the “John Wick” movies is the entire background of this worldwide subculture of crime and assassins that operates on principals, traditions, ethics and codes of behavior that are apparently thousands of years old. Most Action Movies are content with just giving us our protagonist, our antagonist, a reason for them to have at it and that’s it. The “John Wick” movies don’t stop there. They give us an entire world and with each movie builds on it, telling us a little more about this world, how it works and why it works.
Keanu Reeves is just as good in this one as he was in the first. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that he may be the most underrated Action Movie Star we have, despite his impressive resume in that genre. I love how John Wick takes everything with a sort of dispassionate resignation in this one as if he’s the living embodiment of that Al Pacino line from “Godfather III”: “Just when I thought I was out; they pull me back in.” And I love just as much as how when John starts his whining about how he doesn’t want to be doing this again, the other characters remind him that, hey, you were out. You shoulda stayed out.
There’s a reunion in this movie as Keanu’s “Matrix” co-star Laurence Fishburne shows up as The Bowery King, who rules over the homeless population of New York who have their own intriguing subculture. Fishburne plays The Bowery King as a Shakespearean kind of character and it adds delightfully to this way larger-than-life, slightly surreal world. And I hope whoever had the brilliant idea of having Franco Nero in this movie as the manager of The Continental in Rome got a big fat raise because they deserve it. I also loved the scene where John outfits himself with weaponry, information about his target and picks out a new wardrobe. Turns out that he doesn’t wear those black suits just because they’re stylish.
If I have any complaints with JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 it’s that the shootouts and gunfights in this one doesn’t seem to be as inventive as they were in the first one. Especially the one in the Roman catacombs which is more like watching somebody else play an FPS video game than watching a movie. But I’m willing to overlook it because of the worldbuilding involved and the sheer technical artistry and choreography. JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 is a superior example of Action Cinema and is Highly Recommended. Enjoy.