Like the true legend that he has quickly become, JOHN WICK is back, ready to allay our fears and be the lone voice of reason and revenge in a world gone crazy. While there’s no holds barred high-octane adrenaline rush in this action-packed one-man wrecking team, John Wick delivers much more than an explosive non-stop annihilation of the bad guy; he has a moral code that makes him stand a bit taller, fight a lot harder, and endear himself even more to the movie masses in JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2. In short, JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 is frigging awesome!
Dare I say it, but the action choreography and design of JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 is as glorious as the musicality of “La La Land.” Where director Damien Chazelle dazzles the masses with music and dance in “La La Land”, director Chad Stahelski does the same in JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 only with martial arts, gunplay, 141 kills, and some of the greatest automotive choreography ever seen on film, rivaling even the famed “Grasshopper” stunt executed by stuntmen Mickey Gilbert and Fred Waugh decades ago. And folks, let’s not forget JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 has Keanu Reeves who is at the top of his game.
When we last saw John Wick, he had retired from the assassin business, having met the love of his life. He married, settled down and was content with happily ever after. Unfortunately, after an illness, his wife died sending him into a downward spiral, despite her having the forethought to have a puppy delivered to him as a gift and companion after she was gone. But just when you think he may be able to deal with the loss of his wife, Russian mobsters not only steal his prized possession – a 1969 Mustang – but kill his puppy. Needless to say, this does not sit well with Wick and he comes out of retirement to not only recover his car, but avenge the death of his dog. And as if a man with a broken heart over the loss of his wife doesn’t spur enough anger and rage within, killing his dog is the last straw. Of course, Wick prevails in his effort to recover his car, avenge the death of his dog, and rescues another dog in the process.
Fast forward to JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 and a time not too long after the end of Chapter 1. Wick is living the quiet life with his new unnamed dog. The two are like peas in a pod. He has his car back (the recovery of which opens JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 with the most adrenaline-fueled car stunt sequence you’ll ever see – and with Reeves doing his own driving) which his buddy Aurelio is going to attempt to repair, and things finally seem to be going Wick’s way; that is until Italian mobster Santino D’Antonio appears, demanding that Wick execute Santino’s sister Gianna. Turns out Santino holds a marker on Wick which means that as long as Wick stayed out of the “assassin’s game”, the marker could not be called in. But the minute Wick comes back into the game, Santino can call in the marker. Arguing semantics, Wick doesn’t view his tangle with the Russians as coming back into the game. Santino has an opposing viewpoint and makes a rather strong argument for Wick to honor the marker when Santino blows up Wick’s house.
But why does Santino want his sister killed, you may ask? Like any good-natured sibling rivalry, she is currently “head of the family” sitting at the High Table among the criminal families of the world. Santino just happens to think it should be him at the table, not her.
Being a man of honor and respecting the moral code of the syndicates, wick reluctantly agrees to honor the marker and head to Rome to complete his assignment. But before he heads to Rome, he has to make a stop of the Continental, the Manhattan hotel for the discriminating hitman/hitwoman. Run by Winston, there is an iron-clad Code of Conduct which must be honored while at the Continental. No violence. No shooting. No killing. Break the Code and you are not only kicked out of the Continental, but you run the risk of being turned out by any form of assistance or help from Winston or any other potential allies. Winston, of course, gives Wick all the necessary contact information to get himself established in Rome for the job; sommelier of weapons, tailor of Tyvek, etc. And while Wick is away, Winston’s right-hand concierge, Charon, agrees to watch Wick’s dog. After all, we don’t need another canine loss.
Once in Rome, Wick heads to the ancient Baths of Caracalla, the Piazza Navonna and even the Villa Borghese Gardens where he completes his assignment (part of which is a breathtaking hall of mirrors shootout that is to-die-for) but then must face off against a double-crossing Santino and his minions – Cassian and Ares and their crews – before heading back to New York where Wick has his own ally, the Bowery King, with all culminating in an unforgettable battle in the World Trade Center subway hub.
Anyone who saw the first “John Wick” knew the franchise potential. Thankfully, so did screenwriter Derek Kolstad and director Chad Stahelski who are both back for CHAPTER 2. Stahelski, former stunt double for Reeves since the days of Neo and one of the best stunt coordinators (“Expendables” 1 and 2, “The Mechanic”, “Safe”) and 2nd unit directors (“The Hunger Games”, “Captain America: Civil War”) understands story and action which the cornerstone of not only the franchise but heightened exponentially here. If you’re new to JOHN WICK, don’t worry as Kolstad sets up the intro to CHAPTER 2 with the Russian crime boss from the original relating the John Wick saga, bringing everyone up to speed on the dog, the wife, the stolen car, etc. so first-timers don’t miss a beat.
There is a definite and distinct world in which John Wick resides, something which Kolstad honors and stays true to here while propelling the story forward on a global level. The elements and ethos of the “Wick World” remain intact, but expand on a broader platform, thus giving us more backstory of this particularly crime syndicate mythology. That mythology is deepened (fans of Roman mythology will understand the significance of the Continental concierge being named Charon) on multiple story levels with the introduction of markers and learning about the “High Table” and the crime families seated at the table, but also by taking the story fo Rome and lensing in actual ancient ruins. The introduction of the Bowery King brings an interesting dynamic to the table with beautiful metaphoric commentary on the blending of two worlds of people who live in the shadows – the homeless (ruled by the Bowery King) and the crime syndicate assassins. The common threads run deep within the story structure.
Calling on the talents of production designer Kevin Kavanaugh and cinematographer Dan Lausten, Chad Stahelski immerses us in the Wick World for a fully sensory experience. So appreciated is that Lausten and Stahelski opted to shoot widescreen with anamorphic lenses to deliver the best possible imagery. Shooting action sequences among ancient ruins during an operatic rock concert is as much a stunner as pulling catacombs into play and using production design to create this eclectic juxtaposition of high tech amidst ancient ruins. Thanks to the Rome sequencing and the catacombs, Kavanaugh and Lausten are also able to utilize and create narrow tunnels, pathways, etc to use for killer action sequences, with unique play of light.
And talk about killer action! Calling on stunt coordinators JJ Perry and Darrin Prescott, fight choreography is off the charts mind-blowing. Same with weaponry in style and usage. Hand in hand with that is the use of bloody squibs which are timed to perfection so when bullets hit heads or bodies, blood spray is in the air and/or on the walls. Noticeably meticulous work.
The climactic museum battle set amidst a hall of mirrors is beyond dazzling. Lausten’s cinematography in this sequencing is superlative and hand in hand with the vfx of cracked and shattering glass. There is a real beauty to these sequences that will take your breath away.
Distracting for the discerning action eye, however, there are a couple of issues with the subway car fight scene between Wick and Cassian with some loss of continuity with the edits and passenger positioning behind each man. There are three bad cuts within the fight sequence from that perspective. However, despite that, editing of the subway fight sequence, and editing of the entire film by Evan Schiff is exemplary. Editing overall is tight. Well-paced. Great flow with action and angles.
When it comes to performances, all are top-flight. John Leguizamo is back for a brief appearance as Aurelio while Peter Stormare reprises his role as “The Russian” to kick off the film. Ruby Rose has become the go-to gal for fights and weapons work and as a Santino’s mute security head Ares is killer. Ian McShane is back as Winston and as to be expected, is elegantly divine. Two outstanding supporting performances come from Lance Reddick as Charon and Peter Serafinowicz as “The Sommelier” while Ricardo Scamarcio is perfection as the psycho, oozing evil Santino. Common enters the fray this time as Cassian and works well as essentially a tacit mirroring of Reeves’ John Wick. And yes, it’s true. Neo and Morpheus reunite in JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 as Laurence Fishburne joins the fun as the Bowery King. Glorious is an understatement, not only in Fishburne’s performance but in seeing he and Reeves reunite. And as for Keanu Reeves? Wicked. Wickedly delicious. And he has a heart. . . .
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 IS WICKED. WICKEDLY DELICIOUS!
Directed by Chad Stahelski
Written by Derek Kolstad
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Common, Ruby Rose, Lance Reddick