John Wick 2 (aka John Wick: Chapter Two) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Keanu Reeves has finally found one of his best roles in his return to the character of John Wick. He’s never been a master of dialogue, but that’s just fine for such an action picture with a simple premise and elaborate sequences. He doesn’t have to deliver long and dull passages of his intent to kill; he just needs to get to the point and be an intimidating force of bullets and knives. And in his most trim of new suits, with a cold desire to kill in his eyes, he’s certainly one of the most intense action heroes of the 21st century that doesn’t waste his bullets or our time.
John Wick 2 continues the story of the not-quite-retired assassin, still not done with his revenge path. If you’ll recall, Wick’s kill quest was started after Russian mobsters shot up his dog and stole his car. Having taken out the man who killed his canine, Wick 2 opens with him taking back his car from the current gangster possessors. As with any task in the world of Wick, this is not an easy means of taking back his car, nor is it a simple action scene. Everything you need to know about the titular gunman and the sequel is made clear in this sequence, as Peter Stormare recaps with his associates while John (Reeves) lays waste to gangster after gangster, while being smashed into by car after car. It’s a ridiculous scene of overkill, but played up with such a tongue-in-cheek unflappable nature that I couldn’t help but enjoy its construction.
His car back in his possession, Wick’s revenge has been completed. He repairs his car and gets a new dog in his life. If only life were so simple. Of course, an associate from his past has come to collect debt that was formed in a blood pact of sorts. Wick refuses and has his house demolished. Don’t worry, the dog survives. Had he not, Wick would’ve probably leveled the entire crime world. He’s content enough to negotiate after such an ordeal with a higher crime boss (Ian McShane), but won’t receive much help. Stuck with an assassination job, Wick makes the most of it. After all, he gets to travel abroad, don a fancy suit, attend an outdoor concert at Roman ruins and gets to secretly assassinate someone with a fancy new armada of firearms. But, of course, it can’t be an easy mission, eventually leading to John Wick once more being a target of criminals.
For the first half of the picture, Wick 2 is a stylish and fast-paced action picture with some great cinematography and a simple enough story. But in the second half, the film goes for broke by throwing as much crazy crap as it can at the screen to an absurd degree. After a hit is placed on Wick, New York City turns into a city of killers, where it seems as though every pedestrian is an assassin bent on taking him out. Some of the colorful characters of the crime world include an old nemesis of Cassian, played straight by Common, and the tough negotiator of crime lord The Bowery King, played by Laurence Fishburne with more enthusiasm than I’ve seen out of him in years as a boss of underground bums. Franco Nero returns as hotel manager Julius, who has learned from the last film not to mess with Wick’s dog, and Ruby Rose plays the silent killer Ares, speaking only in sign language and letting her bad-ass style of killing do the talking.
Unlike most action movies that throw everything and the kitchen sink at the screen, director Chad Stahelski has the decency to polish the porcelain before chucking it at us. There are plenty of action sequences with violence both efficiently smart and hilariously overblown, but they all look gorgeous. The entire sequence where Wick flees from his attackers in Roman ruins features some amazing lighting for a shootout location I wouldn’t usually expect out of these movies. Wick will later lead some assassins into an art museum’s house of mirrors exhibit that plays wonderfully with perspective, but never becomes so disoriented that we lose sight of the battle. And though Wick’s road of revenge is filled with dozens upon dozens of bullets in brains, fists in faces and pencils in ears, there always felt as though there were an element of control, as if Stahelski was constructing an action ballet of perfectly coordinated moves.
John Wick 2 is such a romp of an action picture that has the refinement of an intellectual with the wild imagination of an adrenaline junkie. It maintains that unequal precision and focus of a simple tale of revenge, making me all the more eager for the eventual third film in the trilogy. In an age when most frenetic action films are tagged as dumb fun, this is pure fun you can count on not destroying your brain cells.