John Wick is like James Bond on crystal meth. I am not referring to John Wick the person, per se, but rather, I am referring to John Wick as a franchise, which is what is seemingly happening with this and the first film. After the success of John Wick, there were many that suspected a sequel would be coming but I have to say that I was honestly surprised that it happened. While I love the original and think that Keanu Reeves was absolutely perfect for the role, I also believed that the first one told a nice, compact story involving revenge and bloodshed that it didn’t really need an unnecessary and possibly diminishing return. Boy, am I ever glad I was wrong?
This time, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has decided to retire from “the life.” That goes about as well as you would expect. But first, he gets his car back and has his buddy (John Leguizamo) explain that “yeah, no problem”… he can totally fix it. After being paid a visit from an old acquaintance who got him out of the game so he could be with his late wife by way of a blood oath, Wick now owes good ol’ Santino D’Antonio a favour or face certain death. Wick refuses and pays for it but now is faced with paying up anyway. D’Antonio has Wick tasked with killing his own sister so that he can move his way up on the crime food chain ahead of her. Alliances are tested, people are double-crossed and a whole lot of people get killed in creative ways.
I LOVED the original film. I know I said it already in this review but I friggin’ ADORED it. Because of that, I was cautiously optimistic about its sequel, knowing what can happen when you try to do a cash-in sequel so soon after an audience favourite like the first movie. Well, if you thought the original film was violent and fun and outrageous, then you haven’t seen anything yet! There are no less than three major action set pieces and each of them are insane. The first one takes place at the beginning of the film as John Wick attempts to get his car back that was stolen from him in the first film. As Peter Stormare hams it up delightfully as crime boss Abram Tarasov, Wick easily kills henchmen in the dozens in order to get his vehicle back. This scene contains broken arms and necks, tons of people getting hit by cars, a unique use of a car door to dispatch of a motorcyclist and surprisingly no gunshots… yet. Another scene takes place in an underground tunnel with a million gunshots occurring and Wick taking on the world once again.
How about the acting? Well, it can not be denied that this is the Keanu Reeves Show. He clearly has a love for this genre that translates through his on-screen performance and is infectious to boot. While the movie is never overtly funny, it has a great sardonic dry wit that Keanu has always been good at delivering in these types of roles. The man was made for this movie. Someone else noted that he slices and dices with the grace of Fred Astaire in an old musical and really I can’t think of a better comparison than that. As another aspect that separates this from most other action movies though, Reeves also displays a certain pathos for this type of character extremely well. John Wick is a loner. He never was before but he has been reduced to being a very lonely man with no real home, emotionally or otherwise. Because of the tragic events in the first film, he doesn’t even have a name for his new dog yet. Reeves is able to convey all this mostly from his facial expressions because his dialogue is used sparingly and only when absolutely necessary.
Despite Reeves owning the screen, there are lots of other acting highlights. Ruby Rose plays a mute assassin and conveys a ton of emotions without even one line of dialogue. Instead, she uses sign language and stylized subtitles to convey herself; she could be a future action star herself. Ian McShane returns from the first film and gives a very fun performance as well, chewing the scenery as he describes to D’Antonio the gravity of the situation when you piss off John Wick. Speaking of D’Antonio, Riccardo Scamarcio is also pretty solid as the suave and dapper villain, making for a nice contrast to Reeves’ no-nonsense hero. Common was another surprise here as another threat to Wick and his brutal methodical fighting style ends up being a nice contrast to Reeves’ combination of martial arts and gunplay.
There is one scene that deserves an entire section all by itself though. As Wick pursues D’Antonio and his henchmen in a museum (which contains an impressive scene beforehand on its own), Wick chases several of them into a “Hall of Mirrors”-type of room with reflections everywhere and occasional bad guys popping out following the opening of hidden sliding doors. Not only is it kinetic and fast-paced while also being very suspenseful, it also looks like it would have been an incredibly hard scene to film. Mirrors are literally all over the set with a combination of squibs, special effects, stunts and movement. Can you imagine how long all that would’ve taken just to shoot it in the first place? Nevermind the editing alone!
Yet another highlight includes two seemingly-endless fight scenes involving Reeves and Common; the scenes between these two are head and shoulders above most fight scenes as, unlike the other ‘bodies’ that Reeves goes after, there seems to be a mutual respect between both characters despite their attempts to kill each other. They both have a job to do and they are merely fulfilling those requirements. In one of the film’s best moments, after Reeves and Common have nearly killed each other in a vicious fight, they go crashing through the glass door of the Continental, a criminal safe-haven where no blood may be spilled or else the guilty parties face harsh consequences. Moments after they are at each other’s necks, they are sharing a drink. It’s moments like this that make this film stand out as being a lot more clever and fun than your average shoot ’em up action film.
You’ll notice I haven’t talked about much else other than the action. Well, that’s what you’re going to these movies for in the first place, I would hope, and if not, well I don’t know why you would go and see John Wick: Chapter 2 then. The film does slow down a bit in one section where we meet Laurence Fishburne (also hamming it up but not as gloriously as Peter Stormare) and his gang of ‘homeless’ soldiers. The idea behind it is solid but the scene moves along sluggishly and it’s the only part of the movie where I actually felt like it slowed down and grinded to a halt for a bit. Thankfully, it’s not a long part and it’s not really revisited later on. I would like to see more of Reeves and Fishburne on-screen together because it’s pretty cool in theory to see the Matrix stars reunite but maybe next time, it can be a more interesting section when they make part three. This scene isn’t even long enough to remove any points from the rating though and the idea that Reeves and Fishburne would reunite in the first place trumped any boredom I got from it.
This film LOOKS amazing as well. The way in which it is shot is similar to that of a prestige picture meaning something that is made to look stunning and not necessarily be the violent romp that this one is – the colours and lighting beautifully illuminate every scene and make it look like you’re not just watching a crazy violent film but rather one that was given every ounce of effort by its creators. Nothing is half-assed here.
This is sure to be a film that’s looked back on as a classic. I might catch some flack for this but I don’t care – it’s pretty much perfect.
Less than * (Actively offensive to one’s intelligence)
* (Brutal; bottom-of-the-barrel)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)