John Wick: Chapter 2: Film Review
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Bridget Moynahan
Director: Chad Stahelski
"Can a man like you ever know peace?"
It's a question posed to Keanu Reeves' titular hero midway through the latest adrenaline-fuelled sequel to the 2014 hit which saw wannabe retired assassin John Wick go on the rampage following the killing of his dog and stealing of his car.
In this second, which ramps up the action sequences by way of very little plot, Wick's looking forward to a quiet life after tying up all the loose ends and offering peace to former nemeses. But when Italian crime lord Santino D'Antonio looks to call in a favour that helped Wick out of the fighting game and Wick refuses, all hell's set loose.
With D'Antonio wanting his sister dispatched and having destroyed Wick's chance of peace, John Wick has no choice but to be pulled back in one last time...
John Wick: Chapter 2 carries quite a strong line of honour and rules in among the world of assassins.
It's a good strong levelling thread that runs throughout that builds to a level of tragedy for Reeves' eponymous hero; there's a tantalising sense of sadness in Reeves' relatively mute turn, as he struggles to leave the world behind he lived in. One scene even literally sees him burying the past before he's thrown back in by others.
If the film's 2 hour run time occasionally feels a little over-paced, it's at the expense of a rather minimalist plot of revenge and betrayal. Though, in many ways, that's exactly what many an action thriller has been fuelled on before.
Once again, the balletic dance of destruction and extremely choreographed fight sequences is well constructed. Unlike other action films of its ilk, this one is content to let long scenes of hand-to-hand combat play out, rather than relying on ADHD, frenetic, choppy editing to flesh it out.
The result is visually thrilling and what you'd expect from a film of this particular genre.
Setting action sequences in white museums or corridors that are splattered with blood sprays are viscerally thrilling this time around. And the final hall of mirrors set showdown crackles with neon and doubt as the action kicks in. But there are other scenes (a casual walkway being the best) which bring an inventiveness to the tired beat-em-up genre.
Equally, director Stahelski's used the visuals of the globe-trotting to expertly set the scenes and build the mythos of Wick and his world.
From smart montages of Wick heading to Italy to get suited up for combat in more ways than one, the script peppers large portions of what transpires with dry humour to make up for a lack of anything more narratively substantial.
As for Reeves, there's a weariness this time around that's relatively infectious and in keeping with Wick's desire to retire. That doesn't mean Reeves is tired in the action sequences, rather that his lack of dialogue gives way to more work behind the eyes to convey mood and state of mind. It's certainly a vicarious thrill to see him share scenes with Laurence Fishburne after so long since they were parted in The Matrix.
The rest of the cast are a strong, if occasionally mixed, bag.
Rose is simply there to kick ass and pout as D' Antonio's mute bodyguard, but she comes across as bland. Common makes a strong case as a foe for Wick early on, but D'Antonio is a hollow baddie used to set wheels in motion than really give a personal sense of Wick's quest for retribution (In fairness, it's the more personal edges that are sorely missed this time around, with betrayal not quite feeling as strong a motive to set the ball in motion). And McShane brings a certain charisma as the hotel head caught up once again in Wick's world.
Ultimately, John Wick: Chapter 2 sets out to kick ass and build on the lore of the assassin known as the Boogeyman - and does so with veritable ease.
It certainly provides the thrills and the action in among the tragedy, but the lack of a personal thrust this time around means at times, the whole thing, while excellently executed, feels a little stiff and starched as it kicks and punches its way through an occasionally over-long 2 hour run time.