Director: Chad Stahelski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Claudia Gerini
John Wick was a surprise hit. What seemed on paper to be a relatively routine revenge thriller for a star in real need of a career bump somehow became the most unlikely of critical hits, lauded for its strong sense of design and lively fight choreography. With David Leitch having taken his directorial talents to Atomic Blonde, original co-director and former Keanu Reeves stunt double Chad Stahelski takes the reins solo for John Wick: Chapter 2. As a sequel, it is appropriately titled. Without taking us off in any new directions, it gives us more of the same without feeling like it is simply rehashing.
In the world of assassins, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is the boogeyman. To frighten each other, assassins tell stories of John Wick, and as one character points out, if anything these myths and tall tales have been toned down to make them believable. Chapter 2 picks up immediately where the first left off, with Wick retrieving his stolen Mustang – the final loose end from the first film – so he can return to the retirement which was so rudely interrupted. But re-retiring is not as easy as it would seem. Having heard that he was once again active, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) comes knocking, insisting that Wick honour a blood oath that he swore in the past. Santino wants a seat at the High Table, a seat that happens to be currently occupied by his sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini). While reluctant, it soon becomes apparent that Wick has no choice but to comply. Once the job is done though, Wick can choose his own next target.
As with the original, John Wick: Chapter 2 takes a relatively simple revenge narrative and places it in a rich and well-realised world. Writer Derek Kolstad sets up this intriguing underground assassin infrastructure. There are luxury hotels that act like safe zones, armorers that present like high end boutiques, and an old fashioned phone exchange through which hits are organised. It is a world of oaths and rules (two rules in particular: no blood on Continental ground, and every marker must be honoured). This world is made all the more intriguing by Kolstad resisting the urge to over explain things, but instead inviting us simply to accept it as it is.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is a violent film. The body count is obscene. But rather than revel in the brutality and nihilism of violence, its brilliant, almost dance-like fight choreography elevates the material to the point that it feels almost like an action art-film. The choreography of these fight scenes is just one part of an overall design focus. Director Stahelski, cinematography Dan Laustsen and production designer Kevin Kavanaugh combine to create a visually striking film which uses light and colour and framing to create a very cool aesthetic and bring a visual beauty to some shots in a way that you just don’t associate with this genre.
John Wick resurrected Keanu Reeve’s action career to a respectability it hadn’t enjoyed since The Matrix. It is a role perfectly crafted for Keanu’s limitations as an actor, taking maximum advantage of his great physicality – he performs many of his own stunts – while keeping keeping displays of emotion and internality to a minimum. John Wick: Chapter 2 also provides audiences with the thrill of seeing Reeves reunited with his Matrix co-star Lawrence Fishburne, introduced here as underworld New York crime boss the Bowery King, in a small role which promises to become more significant in the inevitable sequel.
If you didn’t like the first John Wick, there is nothing in Chapter 2 that is going to change your mind, but at a time when much of mainstream action cinema is super-CGI spectacle, the energetic celebration of human physicality makes these films stand out from the crowd.
Review by Duncan McLean
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