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JOHN WICK: CHAPTER TWO (2017) review

February 14, 2017

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written by: Derek Kolstad
produced by: Basil Iwanyk and David Leitch
directed by: Chad Stahelski
rating: R (for strong violence throughout, some language and brief nudity)
runtime: 122 min.
U.S. release date: February 10, 2017

 

By all accounts, 2014’s “John Wick” shocked me. The plot synopsis sounded behind dumb, and the previews itself didn’t do much to pull me in. Well, three years later I’m still talking up the action-heavy, ridiculously cool Keanu Reeves vehicle. Naturally, I was a tad bit excited – full-in movie nerd excited – for its sequel,”John Wick: Chapter 2″. SPOILER alert….it’s really good.

Not long after exacting revenge for the murder of his dog and the theft of his classic Mustang, infamous and feared hitman John Wick (Reeves) is still on the warpath with a few more loose ends to wrap up. That’s the plan at least. Right as he’s preparing to fade away into a life away from his hired killer past, John is pulled back into the business with a blood marker he made years prior to Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio). The job? Kill Santino’s heavily-guarded sister in Rome. The D’Antonio family is powerful around the world with serious, influential ties to a worldwide crime and hit syndicate of sorts. Santino – no questions asked – needs John to kill his sister. Bound by his word (and some heavy, grenade-launching influence by Santino), John takes the task and steps out of retirement. He’s only being told part of the story though. Let the bullets fly.

 

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Action movies can be a dime a dozen these days with big budget blockbusters, straight to DVD releases and even high quality television shows. There are any number of pratfalls and issues that pop up, issues that the two John Wick movies have managed to almost entirely avoid. These are ACTION MOVIES. No ulterior motives, very little in the way of love interests or distractions. Just ACTION. Amazing cool characters – good and bad – in stylish, choreographed gunfights, fistfights and car chases with one-liners flowing left and right. Kudos to stunt man and stunt director turned feature film director Chad Stahelski and screenwriter Derek Kolstad. They did it again, making a sequel that’s just as entertaining as the original.

For years, Keanu Reeves was a punchline for any number of jokes. The “whoa” actor has never been considered a great thespian, but my goodness, was he ever made to play this legendary contract killer. Stoic, steely-eyed and the world’s most efficient killer, John Wick is cool. The visual with the immaculately-cut black suit and tie, the beard, the almost shoulder length hair, and of course, Reeves’ cold as ice stare, it all adds something to the mythology of the character. A man of few words, John menacingly growls most of his lines, letting his guns do the talking. The threat with one-liners is they’re either 1. Stupid 2. Not cool 3 Forced 4 Generally overdone, but Reeves in effortless fashion makes them work. Beyond perfect casting.

 

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‘Chapter 2’ delves into the history and mythology of Wick more than its predecessor, a wise choice. It’s a line here, a conversation here, or in one of the movie’s best, most shocking scenes, Wick’s use of a pencil as a weapon. There aren’t long scenes of exposition and dialogue (there’s no time to slow down. Get on board or miss the action!) as we get to know John a touch more. What continues to drive him? Is it vengeance? Is it his word? Something else? Quite the memorable lead character, likable, frightening at times and brought to life in excellent fashion by Keanu Reeves.

What sets ‘Chapter 2’ apart from most unnecessary sequels is the mythology of the hit man world we’ve stepped into. The mysterious gold coins return, a blood marker is introduced, and we see more of the Continental (thankfully both Ian McShane and Lance Reddick are back) as well as its Italian counterpart, with action legend Franco Nero as Julius, McShane’s Italian counter. In one of the coolest scenes, we see John outfitting for his coming hit as he meets a trio of helpful individuals, including a scene-stealing Peter Serafinowicz as the Continental sommelier who doesn’t specialize in wine, but in armament (guns, lots of guns). There’s also hints of higher organizations with shadier dealings and far more power (uh-oh, are we building to more John Wick movies?!?). These little elements add a ton of depth to the world we’ve stepped into without being overbearing or forcing its hand too much.

The cast is having a ball with its variety of performances, starting with Scarmacio as Santino, the art-appreciating, string-pulling mastermind who’s got far-reaching plans. An intimidating villain and a good counter to Reeves’ Wick. Santino’s chief enforcer, Ares (Greek god of war, subtle, right?) is played by Ruby Rose, a memorable turn as a mute killer. The always-welcome Common plays Cassian, a sinister rival who crosses path with John. Claudia Gerini plays Santino’s sister in a stylish, uncomfortable scene as well. Nerd alert nerd alert, Laurence Fishburne plays the Bowery King, a criminal kingpin with a history with John, and not just in The Matrix! Also…ALSO, John Leguizamo returns in a quick early scene as Aurelio. Always glad to see him, even if it is a small part!

 

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Okay, that action element of this sequel, worthy of an entire review in itself. I don’t want to give too much away, but the action is supremely excellent. The first movie set the bar high, but it’s almost like Stahelski, Kolstad and Reeves took that as a challenge. The body count here is startling as John goes through waves of hit men trying (trying mind you) to kill him. Very few action movies have this sort of style. The gun fights are staged like a dance, a bloody, bullet- and corpse-riddled dance as Wick weaves through his attackers. The stunts are beyond cool, and Reeves handled most of his own! There’s an opening car chase, constant gun battles and hand-to-hand scenes to the point it’s almost overkill, but it just works. It’s never long between beautifully choreographed fight scenes.

My one complaint? Minor though it is, ‘Chapter 2’ is a touch long. There’s just so much freaking action and chases and gunplay. The original John Wick was streamlined more, a little tighter with its story. Still, the sequel is an excellent, amazingly entertaining follow-up. I loved the twists in the final act that go a long way to setting up more sequels. And yes, hell yes, there are going to be sequels. The finale is very, very cool in an almost uncomfortable way as John truly realizes what he’s gotten himself into. Stylish, imposing and frightening in a fashion. Bring on Chapter 3, I can’t wait to see where this surprising breakout action franchise goes from here!

 

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RATING: ***1/2

 

 

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