After returning to the criminal underworld to repay a debt, John Wick discovers that a large bounty has been put on his life.
When the original John Wick was released back in 2014, it was an unknown quantity. Here was a film about a hitman and his dead dog that seemingly came out of nowhere and captivated action aficionados with its lean and mean story, its enthralling universe and the surgeon-like camera precision and steadiness in its action sequences. With John Wick: Chapter 2 (finally) hitting our screens in May, the filmmakers know they can’t rely on the same kind of surprise the former had. Instead, Chad Stahelski and Keanu Reeves have beefed up what people loved most about the original: organised carnage, headshots galore and a nigh indestructible puppy.
John Wick: Chapter 2 throws us into the destruction from the outset, beginning mere moments after the first one. Where the original introduced us to the character of John and gave us glimpses of his past life as “The Boogeyman”, here we get to see him fully inhabit his old moniker, albeit reluctantly to get the job done and get his old life back, at least what’s left of it. At this point, you can’t really imagine anyone else playing Wick. For all the talk of acting ability, Reeves has a way about the character, skirting the line between wearing the remorse of what he’s done in the past on his sleeve, and fully embracing “Baba Yega” when he needs to, turning that inner conflict and pain into pure focus, rage and force of will. John Wick has the Devil in him and is afraid to let him come out and play.
This time around, the film is in no short supply of demons for Wick to vanquish. While the first installment lacked any real villain outside of Viggo Tarasov and his merry band of bullet sponges, Chapter 2 gives our hero two very real challenges in the form of Cassian (Common) and Ares (Ruby Rose). Cassian is basically the Terminator with great dress sense, having killed any sign of humanity within himself long ago. Common has stated that his character is Wick if Wick went down a different path, and it shows. Where one pursued love and embraced his humanity, the other is the near personification of Death. Ares, on the other hand, shows a little playfulness underneath her equally impeccable dress sense. Rose takes on the mute bodyguard with an evil charm and firecracker energy when she needs to go toe to toe with Wick. While still get around this whole acting thing, it’s clear Rose is coming into her own and definitely has the action chops.
For all the rough and tumble this franchise has become known for, the performances are often brought down to a simmer. Aside from a few short outbursts from Wick, everyone keeps their cool, even when the bullets are flying. Riccardo Scamarcio’s mafia boss could have easily ventured into the realm of petulant boy king, but even he gives a more subdued take on the more Shakespearean nature of the movie. It’s almost like keeping your cool in a highly stressful situation is an asset in the assassin industry. Who’d have thunk it? Laurence Fishburne, however, seems to be free of those mellowed shackles, giving his Bowery King far more panache and charisma than this movie can handle.
Tonally, Chapter 2 knows exactly what it is from start to finish and plays to it for full effect. While other films in genre can take on a more self serious nature, Chapter 2 likes to meet each heavy moment with tongue firmly in cheek. For all of the bleakness that a movie like this could bring, Stahelski and co are bringing the fun by the truck loads, balancing the bone crunching with a healthy dose of laughter. Writer Derek Kolstad continues to flesh out the shady world of assassins he built in the first film, but never oversells the idea, instead giving us just enough to fill in the gaps. It’s a lesson for other films: simplicity is king.
But, if I’m being honest, we’re all here for the action. If there need be a case for an Oscar category for Stunt / Fight choreography (outside of Fury Road), this film is it. Every stunt person absolutely throws themselves into this film with a reckless abandon that might make psychologists nervous. You can tell Reeves has been training his butt off from word go, whether it be gun play, grappling or just learning how to throw a punch. The stuff he does here almost rivals the work he put in on The Matrix. While stylish, the hand to hand sequences are mean, brutal and often times messy. The gun play is loud, bloody and painfully precise. Wick is The Boogeyman, not because he hides in the shadows, but because he is relentless and violently persistent and his fighting style matches that. No matter how much of the upper hand his opponent may have, Wick is going to find a way to put a bullet in them, even if it means taking a few himself. Stahelski and his crew double down on the promise of exquisite action, delivering sequence after sequence that will make you cringe yet giddy with delight. From vicious punch ons in the heart of Rome, silenced, unnoticed pot shots in New York’s subways or shoot outs that make everything that’s come before it look like your old man attempting Call of Duty for the first time, this movie is an action head’s heroin. If you wondered what killing three men in a bar with a pencil looks like, wonder no more. Think the Joker’s “magic trick” with the flare of The Raid.
If you’ve been following the release of this movie, you’ll know that Australia will be one of the last major film markets to get it. And given Australia’s penchant for acquiring content by any means necessary, I implore you: when this movie hits screens on May 18th, grab a group of your actioner mates, buy yourselves tickets, and watch it on the biggest screen and the loudest sound system possible. This movie is designed for the big screen, it’s sound and score made to hit you square in the chest, and deserves big reactions. It is pure cinema and no squabble over distribution is going to change that.
It’s what Daisy would have wanted.