Starring: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane
Directed By: Chad Stahelski
Running Time: 122 Minutes
UK Release Date: 17th February 2017
BBFC Certificate: 15
For those who didn’t watch the first film let me summarise, and for those concerned about spoilers the story is retold within the first few minutes of the sequel.
John Wick’s wife has recently passed away from an undisclosed illness, and he receives a puppy from her a few days later. Some Russian gangsters then break into his house, beat him up, steal his car, and kill his puppy. It transpires that John used to work for said gangsters father as a legendary assassin. Cue lots of carnage and some of the best choreographed gunplay you have seen on screen, including plenty of headshots.
Chapter 2 takes place shortly after and, as plot goe,s John (Keanu Reeves) is sent on an assassination mission due to a blood oath, and let’s just say the hunter becomes the hunted.
Now the last time I got excited about an action sequel starring Keanu Reeves, we got The Matrix Reloaded (2003). Upon reflection it isn’t as bad of a film as you remember, but it didn’t do justice to The Matrix (1999). But you will be pleased to hear that John Wick Chapter 2 is a great extension to the franchise and is arguably better than its predecessor.
One thing that sets these films apart from other revenge flicks is the sheer comic book brutality of the action scenes, which is apt for those who grew up on Schwarzenegger movies and are desensitised to violence on screen and Hollywood’s love affair with guns. Its tone is surprisingly playful with the right balance of cheese, and that makes for an entertaining movie.
Another positive is the slowly revealed backstory of an international organisation of assassins, complete with a simplistic code of honour and even its own currency. On the surface the main aesthetic of these films is well dressed and stylish upper class looking folk, complete with facial hair and tattoos, so you know they’re not to be messed with. We are voyeurs into this charismatic world and the visual style harks back to the glamourous Hollywood movies of yesteryear where tough guys wore suits and the gals wore designer dresses, drove polished cars and seemed to have a constant flow of wine and cocktails.
But, unlike the Hollywood of yesteryear and the action cinema that dominated the 80’s, we as an audience have evolved tastes where the protagonist isn’t as bulletproof as once thought, has emotions and as such is the type we can route for (see the Bourne Trilogy (2002 – 2007)). With John Wick we got a man who came out of a dangerous underworld for love, and that love was taken away from him. He is still grieving and as such we route for this morally questionable central character who wants nothing but peace and to leave his past behind, but we know this isn’t going to happen.
However, at the end of the day John is a vicious and focused killer whose formidable reputation precedes him. Through an introductory monologue we are reminded of his legendary status within the underworld and of his skills with a pencil – and I should add that this film has the best use of a pencil seen on screen since The Dark Knight (2008).
As with most sequels we retread similar themes and locations, the ante is upped, the body count is higher and the assassin’s underworld is further revealed: all whilst setting the stage for the inevitable sequel. But I don’t mind this obvious setup as the mythology is intriguing, the film is a fun action romp and I am looking forward to see what they do with Chapter 3.
It’s a simplistic film but not one that I would categorise as ‘turn your brain off to enjoy’. It doesn’t reach the heights or thrills of The Raid (2011) but this is a Hollywood movie, and a good one at that. There’s plenty to enjoy: the look, tone, the very well placed and often hilarious humour, the creativity and efficiency of John’s kills (however the general the formula is still: 10 headshots, wrestle a goon to the ground while performing another 2 head shots, kill the goon he has just wrestled, repeat).
One gripe is that this film seems to take a while to get going after its frantic opening, but during this time it feels Bond-ish, as John goes to a foreign country and gets new gear. But once the shooting starts this film is an almost non-stop thrill ride up until its ending, which is also reminiscent of a certain Bond film.
Add in some great chase sequences, some fun performances and welcome cameos, the overall style and great shootouts: this is a well-made action film which builds on the original. It’s a must if you are a fan of the genre.
Overall Verdict: John Wick: Chapter 2 is one of those rare sequels which doesn’t disappoint. A near constant thrill ride which expands on the mythology and leaves you in anticipation for the inevitable sequel. Violent and hilarious, this movie is worth your time.
Reviewer: George Elcombe