Film Review: ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’

'John Wick: Chapter 2' Review
Courtesy of Lionsgate

As in 2014's surprise hit, this elegantly choreographed action sequel elevates its brutal confrontations to a dazzling form of modern dance.

“John Wick” wasn’t designed for a sequel. It began with someone killing John Wick’s dog, and ended with the vengeance-bent uber-assassin stealing a new best friend from an animal shelter, after dropping 76 (or more) dead bodies along the way. The movie, which launched the directorial career of Keanu Reeve’s stunt double in “The Matrix,” Chad Stahelski, succeeded not on the strength of its story, but on the elegance of its action, and while it reaches at times to justify its own existence, “John Wick: Chapter 2” boasts a reunion with “Matrix” co-star Laurence Fishburne and two major improvements on the original: First, no animals were harmed in the making of the film. And secondly, the human body count is significantly higher.

If the latter detail offends your humanistic sensibilities, then this isn’t the franchise for you. Even for “Grand Theft Auto” junkies and those at the other end of the spectrum, it can actually get tiresome watching Wick eliminate a seemingly inexhaustible stream of henchmen at times. But there’s a quality to the violence here that elevates it above the literal (and reprehensible) nihilism of movies like last year’s “Hardcore Henry,” and instead achieves something more akin to dance.

The John Wick movies accomplish what Hong Kong action flicks did a quarter-century ago, seducing bloodthirsty (predominately male) audiences into appreciating an exquisitely choreographed modern ballet. If you doubt that Stahelski sees his own job in these terms, look no further than how he lights each scene: Even neon demon Nicolas Winding Refn must be taking notes at the way Stahelski and his crew place bright-fuchsia fluorescent tubes in a New York subway, poltergeist-blue spotlights beneath the arches of ancient Roman catacombs, and nightclub-worthy accents throughout an elaborate hall of mirrors art exhibit.

In the opening scene, a Russian crime tsar (Peter Stormare) reminds us of Wick’s ruthless boogeyman reputation, and after Wick retrieves his stolen 1969 Mustang and knocks off another dozen or so of his men, he brokers a truce that puts the vendetta of the first movie to rest. Rules matter to the criminals in Wick’s world, and even he is bound by them, lest he find himself outside the protection of the Continental — a secret network of assassins dreamed up by screenwriter Derek Kolstad for the original.

Recognizing that the Continental was effectively what distinguished “John Wick” from nearly all the other revenge sagas out there, Kolstad has decided to elaborate on its mythology this time around, expanding the homicidal fraternity beyond a single New York hotel to an international organization governed by its own sort of omertà. Rule No. 1, “No blood on Continental grounds,” serves to protect bitter rivals, the way “base” does in grade-school games of tag. Rule No. 2, “Every marker must be honored,” explains why Wick can’t retire just yet: In order to leave the organization, he pledged to fulfill one last favor when asked. And now, his marker has come due.

Wick’s debt drags him into the middle of a power play for a seat at the High Table, a council of international super-criminals in which Italian playboy Santino D’Antonio (the impeccably dressed Riccardo Scamarcio) wants the spot held by his sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini), and orders Wick to eliminate her. It’s a job that Wick describes as “impossible,” but actually proves to be remarkably easy (she actually does the deed for him) — until he tries to escape, only to be cornered by both Gianna’s bodyguard (Common) and D’Antonio’s henchmen.

Perhaps the Continental ought to consider a third rule: Contract holders can’t snuff the assassins they engage, or vice versa. No sooner the task been competed than D’Antonio issues an open contract on Wick, which goes out wide to every assassin in the world (none of whom keep their cell phones on silent), making for an amusing montage as Stahelski reveals just how far the Continental’s network extends. With the exception of one returning character, a look-the-other-way local cop played by Thomas Sadoski, every speaking role is held by someone related in one way or another to this vast underground organization, though some — like the Orthodox Jewish banker who watches over his safety deposit box, or the “sommelier” who deals guns as if they were fine wines — wouldn’t dream of turning a weapon on Wick.

Ironically, the John Wick introduced at the outset of this movie sincerely believes he’s done with violence. Except we’re dealing with Keanu Reeves here, and though he’s acrobatic enough to meet the physical demands of the role, the actor has never in his career managed to convey complex emotion: In this case, Reeves’ version of extreme reluctance looks more like mild constipation, never more pronounced than in the scene where he makes a decision to violate the Continental’s most important rule, knowing full well it will leave him “excommunicado” (a silly word rendered menacing by hotel manager Ian McShane). That said, it might be even more amusing if he’d gotten himself kicked out for overstepping one of the hotel’s unwritten restrictions — specifically, its no-dogs policy.

Film Review: 'John Wick: Chapter 2'

Reviewed at Rodeo Screening Room, Beverly Hills, Feb. 2, 2017. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 122 MIN.

Production

A Lionsgate release of a Summit Entertainment presentation of a Thunder Road Pictures production, in association with 87eleven Prods. Producers: Basil Iwanyk, Erica Lee. Executive producers: Jeff Waxman, Robert Bernacchi, David Leitch, Kevin Frakes, Vishal Rungta. Co-producer: Holly Rymon.

Crew

Director: Chad Stahelski. Screenplay: Derek Kolstad, based on characters created by Derek Kolstad. Camera (color): Dan Laustsen. Editor: Evan Schiff. Music: Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard.

With

Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, Lance Reddick, Peter Stormare, Bridget Moynahan, Franco Nero, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane.

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  1. steven kendell says:

    What animals were harmed Sorry???

  2. Carlos Cesena says:

    What Animals were harmed in Part I? Why does a body count going up make it better? Why no consideration to less intelligent plot in Part II?

  3. Makayla Spoon says:

    Noo the reason he got kicked out was because he killed someone on forbidden hotel ground. Not only because of the dog … but the man up front watched for him, meaning it wasnt really in the hands of the hotel itself.

  4. Dovydas says:

    I left movie half way through the theater. Its not only dumbest film ive seen in a while but also i dont know what critics saying “dance of guns”. There was no dance. Shots are bad filmed, same short scenes are repeated (ie unlocking gate padlock) car in some scenes magically repairs itself and so on. Kianu Reves acting is crap. Shooting unrealistic, running from bullets like he went for a jog. Enemies just falling like flies, stand aiming, dont even shoot. Never seen john wick 1st part ever thus came expecting something like Bourne quality and left without even having patience to finish this 4year old effect and plot piece of s…

  5. James Evers says:

    Being a huge fan of action movies, I really love the competition in the new action movies including John Wick, the accountant, and the Kingsmen. Finally we get over with the same boring names (Bond, Ehtan, and Bourne). I am really looking forward for another installments of Accountant, Kingsmen 2 with Channing Tatum, and John Wick 3 the ultimate Assassin. By the way I liked the idea, especially the opening.

  6. loco73 says:

    And why does he keep getting hit by cars?!

  7. This is the absolute DUMBEST movie I have ever seen in my entire life. You literally have to leave your IQ out the door in order to tolerate this piece of trash. It is basically story-less with some lame plot and Keanu Reeves simply kills his unrealistically incompetent enemies like flies with some repetitive BS moves. They literally miss shooting him at 5 meters and he hits them with every shot no matter what the distance. This garbage makes Rambo look like Ben Hur. If you want to see extreme violence and save money, just search for some ISIS execution videos on line. They are free and at least have some kind of a story behind them. The fact that there are people rating this movie above 5 means America is now an idiocracy. I pity the world.

    • Shutup says:

      Don’t watch it then idiot, no one asked, it’s minimalistic, not all movie has to have deep plots.

      • Painman says:

        Us “uber-assassin,” are trained for extremely high-combat-body-count. Therefore all of our projectiles have to be accounted for. Putting them in a “body” is easier for the coroner to count.
        Thank You,
        Uber-Assassin #9774597634562

    • loco73 says:

      LOL…damn! And I thought I disliked this turd of a movie!!!! :-p

  8. loco73 says:

    While the first movie truly was highly enjoyable and what I would even consider a minor masterpiece of action, “John Wick Chapter 2” is a wholly unnecessary piece of cinematic garbage.

    They have managed to do to “John Wick” exactly as they did to “Taken” with its dumbed down and increasingly stupider sequels…

    This is one of the worst movies I’ve had the misfortune to sit through in the past few years. It is an IQ lowering vomit fest, a cacophony of unleashed stupidity and idiocy.

    This crapfest reminds me of that other overhyped piece of garbage, “Mad Max Fury Road” which also had this type of baseless praised heaped upon itself…

  9. Ira Michaud says:

    To clarify, no animals were hurt during the filming of either movie, although they used special effects to simulate a dog being kicked to death in the first one. I repeat, no animals were actually harmed during the filming of either movie.

  10. bean says:

    Thanks for your amazing review of John Wick: Chapter 2. Knowing that you enjoyed it and are certain that no animals were harmed during the making of this movie has made my decision of purchasing tickets for this movie so much easier. Never stop doing what your doing.

  11. Lovada Prunty says:

    loved chapter2! waiting and hoping for #3?

  12. SILENCER says:

    “dazzling form of modern dance.”

    Only a snowflake would make that analogy.

    Reeves’ handgun technique shows fantastic work ethic, trained by the likes of people like Taran Butler.
    For those of you afraid of guns unless they’re wielded by black uniformed Police, this means his firearms handling is based on legitimate techniques of engagement.

    Who would have thought that Keanu Reeves is actually a bad ass?

  13. Paully says:

    John Wick 1 was surprisingly watchable..

  14. nataly says:

    Watch John Wick: Chapter Two Full Movies Online Free HD

    (http://bit.ly/2kqxwRt)

    Genre : Thriller, Action, Crime
    Stars : Keanu Reeves, Bridget Moynahan, Ruby Rose, Peter Stormare, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne
    Runtime : 122 min.

  15. Fast Black says:

    Please make more fun escapist movies like this for us! Full of action and color sound that doesn’t require the strained attention to dialogue and expansive segments full of silence.

    I get the need to demonstrate anguish on screen with movies like Moonlight & Manchester By the Sea, but those would translate so much better as limited tv style series.

    Also, I hope the James Bond film producers are paying attention to this John Wick meets Deadpool hit streak because 007 would be prime for picking up the baton with this genre full of fast black comedy.

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