Two years ago I had heard a lot of very positive things about John Wick, called Keanu Reeves’ triumphant return to action glory. And it was all I had heard, the right sort of revenge fantasy with logical motivation, a fascinating universe, and extremely well done action scenes. And Keanu Reeves was great as the mysterious, nigh unstoppable assassin brought out of retirement.
John Wick: Chapter 2 returns with the same writer/director team (essentially) as the first movie and continues essentially right where the last movie left off. After a fun opening with a game Peter Stormare, the plot begins. Italian assassin/criminal family leader Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) brings a terrible choice to John Wick; he must pay back a debt or die. And unfortunately, that debt involves putting John Wick in dangerous situations and will almost certainly be double-crossed later.
After that, it’s a series of action scenes of gradually building crescendo in dark tunnels and alleyways in Rome and New York City. Ian McShane returns as the enigmatic owner of the “no assassin business here” hotel, and he’s great as always. A few cameos show up I won’t mention, but of note are two newcomers, Cassian (Common) and Ares (Ruby Rose). Cassian is a fellow assassin and old peer of John’s who wants revenge on someone John killed.
There are some particularly well done scenes between the two of them that make no sense, but are a lot of fun. Common was pretty good here, and he seemed to do a lot of his own stunts. Ruby Rose plays a mute bodyguard for Santino and thus comes into conflict with John several times. The subtitles for foreign language, including her sign language, are once again stylized and shown off with humor and a bit of irony.
And yet, the connection of John with his deceased wife permeates much of his inner mind going forward. And he still has the dog he befriended at the end of the last movie, which was actually a great connective tissue. John isn’t purely invulnerable, but he’s unstoppable. The movie puts blocks in his path until it threatens to overwhelm.
The world of the fake assassin is fleshed out more here, becoming more fanciful and silly, but I liked it. There’s a fascinating depth to the nonsense that worked well overall, and it lent itself to future movies about this character. Keanu Reeves really is a revelation as John Wick; he’s entirely believable in this role, and it remains some of his best acting.
Of course the action is phenomenal; all shaky cam action movies should hang their heads in shame. This is a movie that shows you every hit and shot, and although it’s like watching a video game character dominate a level with relative ease, it’s a game with beautiful graphics and an engaging storyline.
For me, any fans of the first John Wick have to see this one. If you didn’t like that one, well, you won’t care for this either. But I loved the first one, and this one was pretty great too. It’s not going to win any awards, but hey, that’s show biz.
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