John Wick a.k.a. The Boogeyman a.k.a. Mr. Headshot is back and fans have reason to get excited. Writer Derek Kolstad, director Chad Stahelski, and of course, the man himself (Keanu Reeves) have returned with a sequel worthy of its predecessor. John Wick: Chapter 2 is stylish, unpredictable, and loads of fun. It furthers the story in clever ways and brings the ruckus in tremendous fashion.
Most action movies are a bore. If the endless fight sequences, car chases, shootouts, and general BTFD (big things falling down) don’t serve the story and the characters, I tend to lose interest. The John Wick franchise charmed me from the start. I caught the world premiere of John Wick in 2014 at Fantastic Fest, with Reeves, Stahelski, and David Leitch (uncredited co-director) in attendance and the screening was electric. Let’s reflect:
Holy face shot! John Wick is the first major crowd-pleaser of Fantastic Fest. Keanu Reeves has a nice turn as former hitman John Wick in a hard hitting action film from first time directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. They both have extensive backgrounds as stunt coordinators and the movie is packed with impressively choreographed in-camera action sequences. 84 kills in all (!)
There’s a club in John Wick called ‘The Red Circle,’ an intentional nod to the Jean-Pierre Melville film Le Cercle Rouge. Melville was a big influence on John Woo and John Wick has traces of Melville and Woo. It also brought to mind Payback with Mel Gibson but with better action sequences. It’s a gritty New York shoot ’em up that is so over-the-top at times that it straddles genre parody, but it’s never less than fun.
The film was a success at the box office bringing in $86 million on a $20 million budget and it instantly felt like a cult classic (much like Green Room at FF in 2015).
John Wick: Chapter 2 picks up where the first one left off. After a spectacularly entertaining opening sequence, Wick calls it quits, returns to retirement, and literally buries his guns. Insert Al Pacino from The Godfather Part III. (‘Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.’) Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) shows up at Wick’s home with a crew of henchman and gives him a marker that Wick previously swore to honor with a blood oath. When he refuses to honor the marker and kill Santino’s sister — who has a seat at the ‘High Table’ of crime lords — Wick breaks the assassin code of conduct and there are consequences. That’s just the beginning…
Wick, of course, goes full-on John Wick at the expense of a few dozen baddies and along the way we encounter familiar characters (Ian McShane and John Leguizamo return) and new ones (Common and Ruby Rose are welcome additions). The entire cast shines. Laurence Fishburne joins in on the fun, reuniting Morpheus and Neo from The Matrix movies. Common and Reeves face off in an epic brawl that’s like Roddy Piper and Keith David from They Live trained by Bruce Lee and equipped with lethal weapons, unlimited ammo, and bullet proof suits. The action is fast, but it’s filmed in a way that allows the viewer to see everything. There’s no whizz bang blur of editing leaving you dizzy, unsure of what’s going on. Reeves and Common are dialed in, hitting the meticulously detailed choreography with precision and coming across both believable and effortlessly cool while trading pointed verbal barbs and eliciting ‘oohs and ahhs’ from the audience.
Kolstad’s script is fire. Wick’s murky world of suave and sophisticated killers who live by a code, seek refuge in swanky luxury lodges, and pay for things with gold coins is expanded, as is the mythology behind it. This is what makes the story interesting. The movie isn’t spectacle for the sake of spectacle, it’s substance, style, and spectacle blended together smoothly, and the result pays homage to a particular brand of shoot-em-up movies while simultaneously paving new territory.
Yes, it’s all a bit silly, but in an age where comic book/superhero movies reign supreme and nearly every other character has special powers, John Wick is a hero I can get behind. He’s a regular guy — a human — just trying to survive the consequences of the path he’s paved. Here’s a guy who lost everything that meant something to him; first his wife, then the dog she posthumously gifted him and his treasured car. He struck out at those responsible and now all he wants is out — a touch of peace after a life of violence — but he can’t escape the game or the shadow of his former self (or is it his truer self?).
Most action/superhero movies (even the good ones) feel like they’re trying too hard, and neither John Wick movie feels that way. They exist as so, cool without really trying, like Alain Delon and the Melville films he stars in (Le Samouraï and Le Cercle Rouge particularly). Sure, Wick’s legend is over-the-top and he does things most humans aren’t capable of (he has a penchance for dodging bullets that is unparalleled, while simultaneously managing to hit nearly everything he aims at) but he’s still rooted in reality and I can identify with him. The Wick movies make some of James Bond’s outings look cartoonish and they never feel as stuffy or serious as the Jason Bourne series. The action and comedy is clumped together and the filmmakers nail the tone.
John Wick: Chapter 2 builds to a satisfying ending that left me itching to watch it again and hungry for the next chapter. It solidifies the Wick franchise as one to be taken seriously and it’s a compelling entry in the saga. The intense action sequences and the high body count aren’t for everybody, but fans of the first film and classics like The Killer and Hard Boiled will relish every moment.
4 out of 5 Nerdskulls
John Wick: Chapter 2 is now playing in theaters! Check out more coverage on Nerdlocker:
Matt Hardeman’s interview with Chad Stahelski and stunt coordinator J.J. Perry.
Chase Gifford’s review.
Follow me on twitter: @saltywinters
Check out the Critics Circle on Radio Brave, the Houston Film Critics Society’s weekly program.
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