“Can a man like you know peace?”
Couple of years back, the first John Wick film came out of nowhere and blew those of us that knew about it away. Word of mouth quickly made it a surprise hit and soon enough it became the measuring stick for all modern action thrillers.
Watching the once uninteresting Keanu Reeves rack up an impressive body count with outstanding stunt work, and brilliant fight and gun choreography, John Wick was the action movie equivalent of great porn.
So of course we now have a sequel.
A few hours after the end of director (and stuntman) Chad Stahelski’s previous film, John Wick’s past appears to have caught up with him. The formally retired assassin is handed a contract that would be terminal to refuse, so heads to Rome to work on regaining his freedom.
As is always the way, things aren’t as simple as they seem and Wick finds himself a loose end in somebody else’s plan. Now, he’s worrying less about retiring and more about surviving the tidal wave of bad guys on his tail.
What? You wanted a more in depth story? Sorry, that’s not what John Wick nor its sequel are about.
What John Wick: Chapter 2 is about, is expanding and improving on almost every element of the original thriller’s already excellent pedigree. It’s about taking all the action, the gun play, the superbly cinematic fighting and turning them all up to eleven.
Let’s be honest: a plot which revolves around a retired hitman resurrecting his demons because some clueless yob killed his dog and stole his car, is simultaneously cliched and beyond ridiculous. What makes John Wick stand out is not only how ludicrously absurd it is, but how fully it commits to that absurdity. The choreography behind Reeves’s stunts and (what has lovingly come to be known as) “gun-fu” skills makes the martial arts shit that earned Cardboard Keanu all that praise back in his The Matrix days, look like kids playing at being Bruce Lee.
Chapter 2 of this franchise follows the standard sequel blueprint. From the opening scene (resembling the car-combat of a Twisted Metal game) through to the destruction of our main character’s home at the hands of an insane mobster with a grenade launcher; John Wick 2 ups the ante in almost every way that the returning directors are able. And that’s just the first quarter of an hour.
Quickly finding himself in Rome – one of my favourite parts of this film that isn’t the firearm based destruction of any and all bad guys – we get to glimpse into the underworld that John Wick inhabits. Needing a new arsenal for his new country, it’s an absolute delight to watch the assassin tool up for his latest job, picking and choosing weaponry and outfits like the rest of us would choose what aftershave to wear.
Now we get to see Mr. Wick plough through a never ending tidal wave of bad guy cannon fodder. Nameless, faceless goons with absolutely no stock in the story being told are here simply to up the body count. The only real downside is that the big bad guy of the piece (played by the supremely average Riccardo Scamarcio) kind of falls into this same category. He just doesn’t provide any real sense of threat, or even a little mild peril. He’s as generic an Italian mobster as you can imagine. Tony Soprano this guy ain’t. The poor guy didn’t have a chance.
Scamarcio is introduced to us not five minutes after we have been given a glimpse of greatness, as (the always amazing) Peter Stormare shows up as the Russian mob boss trying to make peace with the contract killer after the events of the first film. You’ve really got to pull out the big guns if you want to have your main bad guy be comparable to Stormare. But that is a minor niggle in such a great film.
Whilst on paper, John Wick: Chapter 2 seems almost generic in its averageness, this would be the worst book to judge by its slightly bland cover. It may look like it should be a straight-to-dvd action film, but it is in fact one of the greatest action films to be released in ages; possibly the best since Wick’s first outing.
A breathtaking, two hour-long, ultra-violent ballet of guns and hand-to-hand combat that is, even at this early stage of the year, in contention for the best film of 2017.