Director: Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Common, Ruby Rose, Laurence Fishburne
Running Time: 122 minutes
Release Date: February 17th
As the world continues to burn, it feels strange to celebrate a bacchanal of glorious violence but here we are. To be entirely fair to John Wick: Chapter 2, there is an actual film here, and it’s a damn fine one.
While the first outing for Keanu Reeves’ taciturn assassin made a point of economic storytelling, its second instalment goes all The Raid 2 in its attempt to expand the established hyper-stylised world. The results do justice to noble intentions. Weary of the artificial and often indecipherable action scenes that have plagued American cinema for the past decade and change, Chad Stahelski and chief stunt coordinator Jordan Perry take their cues from classic Hong Kong genre efforts, incorporating long takes, a deliberate emphasis and budget focus on preparation and, crucially, putting the right people in place.
Top of that particular list is Keanu Reeves, 52 years young and still as spritely and game as he was on the set of Point Break. Reeves gets some knocks for his stilted, occasionally wooden line readings and the general sense that he’s a sweetheart underneath it all. Cast in the right role, he’s note-perfect. Simply put, he was born to play John Wick. There’s enough of a cult aspect to the man before you get to his tremendously physical gifts as an actor. In a very short space of time and without a great deal of dialogue to weigh him down, he has created a character that might be labelled iconic if that word hadn’t been so devalued in recent times.
John Wick lives in a deliberately ostentatious world and he might appear invincible but Stahelski, Reeves and returning screenwriter Derek Kolstad do just enough to make it compelling and even somewhat believable. You root for this thinly-sketched grieving near-mythical hitman as battle damage is accrued, scars and blood emerge and Reeves begins to hobble around like a rugby player who refuses to come off the field for treatment because there’s a game to be won here, dammit. John Wick’s quest this time out is a touch more complicated than the dog-based vengeance of the previous endeavour, however.
In building this universe, Chapter 2 brings us further into the underworld. Here we learn of John’s debt to a power-hungry Italian mobster and thus we find our hero caught up in a set of circumstances he wants nothing to do with and facing off against a whole host of rival killers who seek to put him in the ground. Again, the details are on the slight side but the new developments and faces feel like a natural progression. Chapter 2 is a longer affair but the pacing is excellent and though headshot fatigue is practically inevitable, there’s always something fresh and inventive around the exceedingly well-lit corner – a covert silenced pistol shootout in public between Wick and rival assassin Cassian (played with ice cool conviction by Common) to name but one such highlight.
It’s not perfect, of course. The argument can be made that John Wick is a franchise that short-changes women, given the ‘dead wife as plot device’ in the first film and the use of the two major female roles here. Ruby Rose has great presence as the main villain’s lead enforcer but given that her chief character trait is an inability to speak, you can understand why questions might be raised. Similarly, Claudia Gerini brings elegance and gravitas to her short time onscreen but also has the task of exposing her flesh, even if it’s more about symbolism than titillation. Though both are superb in their respective parts, it does make you hope that the next adventure will boast a female counterpart that is truly on John Wick’s level.
Indeed, a third – and you’d almost hope final, given the momentum – chapter feels all but inevitable, not least with how Chapter 2 concludes in pulsating ‘70s paranoia thriller fashion. For now, bask in the crimson-soaked glow that comes with scenery-chewing cameos from Peter Stormare, Laurence Fishburne and Peter Serafinowicz, the effortless brilliance of Ian McShane, and a brand of elaborate, muscular filmmaking that Hollywood is thankfully still capable of.