John Wick: Chapter 2 – Review

Opening with an explosive action set piece involving guns, cars and a very nervous Peter Stormare – John Wick is back doing what he does best. Killing every bastard in sight!

There’s something special about Keanu Reeves action movies. When they’re good, they’re very good. This is one of the good ones. Expanding on themes established in the original film whilst still finding time to take things in new and often unexpected directions.

I can’t think of many films where fights to the death end with the two combatants having a quiet drink in a bar – but John Wick: Chapter 2 is a film that likes to surprise us.

Still haunted by the death of his wife – all Wick wants to do is settle down and live a quiet life with his nameless dog.

Then former colleague Santino Dantonio enters his life. Dantonio wants Wick to do a job for him. He’s calling in a marker. When Wick tries to decline the offer – the heavy price he pays convinces him he must do what he’s asked. He has to do this job if he wants to get out of the life for good.

Completing the task however brings more chaos into Wick’s already complicated life. The slimy Dantonio double crosses him.

So we’re plunged into an adventure where Wick must dodge bullets, knives, and fists coming in from every direction. He must battle a deadly deaf mute hit-woman – and also  Cassian. A rival of Wick’s looking to put him out of the picture – even though the two acknowledge a grudging mutual respect.

There’s plenty of international intrigue here. Rome has never looked more beautiful onscreen.

The Continental Hotel and it’s staff make welcome reappearances including Ian McShane as Winston – the charismatic head of the organisation.

There are great additions to the cast. Reeves gets to have a reunion with Laurence Fishburne – and even that old dog Franco Nero joins in the fun!

The action scenes are GREAT! A shootout to pounding techno takes place at a catacomb rave. The scene is reminiscent of the nightclub gun battle in the original. I’m wondering if scenes like this will be a hallmark in all future John Wick movies?

When the battle descends further into the catacombs you’ll find yourself gripping your armrests with tension. Chad Stahelski is an extraordinarily talented director. This is so satisfyingly explody. Brains everywhere!

There is an ingenious gunfight in a busy train station that is cleverly constructed and reminiscent of early John Woo. Punctuated by little moments of gallows humour to keep us chuckling.

None of this comes at the expense of the plotting. This is a far more complex affair than the original. We get more details about The Continental and the way they operate. It’s very interesting and adds a richness to this world that keeps us interested on an intellectual level as well as gloriously entertained.

If John Wick was about a man on a mission then John Wick: Chapter 2 is about a man on the run. From his past, from his enemies, from his friends and more importantly from his fate. 

Wick acknowledges that he is afraid of damnation. Scenes are reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno. This film represents a metaphorical descent into hell for Wick. Like his soul is finally lost. The marker which he agreed on with Dantonio is in effect a Faustian pact which puts all these events into motion.

At first we’re led to believe that perhaps Wick himself is the devil in this tale. Yet maybe he’s not. Is he just a lost soul who still has some virtue hidden inside?

A great scene in a gallery full of mirrors is a metaphor of the internal conflict within Wick. Forced to see his reflection doing such awful things – he’s looking at his own soul. Finally seeing the ugliness there.

I’m assuming the third movie will be the tale of his redemption. That’s a story I’m looking forward to seeing. Until then, there’s a real feeling that paradise is lost.

The Man Who Saved Movies. Somebody PLEASE get this man a gun! 

 

 

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  • President of what?

    Sounds good! I thought the first JW was a fun “check your brain at the door’ flick and it seems that this one is more of the same.
    i’ll either see this in the theaters or wait for a VOD release.

  • The Magic Hunter

    Great write-up, but I just didn’t share your enthusiasm. Neither did my wife, and she was so excited to see JW2 that, the day before we went, she surprised me by announcing that she’d bought a DVD of the first one off Amazon. She was almost inexplicably tickled by the first one.

    As we left the sequel, we tried to pin down what had changed: what was the missing je ne sais quoi? The first one seemed to be the perfect balance of deadpan serious and out-of-left-field silliness, not to mention an underpinning of classic cliche (the unemotional hitman who follows a strict, honorable code; his wife died, they kill his dog and take his car — as my wife said, it’s like a country song). With the second, the balance is askew. A LOT more of the running time is spent on the fights, which is fine if you like that sort of thing (though to both of us it began to feel like we were at one of those big screen video game tournament viewings), but that encroaches on the quirkiness, which, when it does show up, just feels like a token insert here and there and not something that suffuses the John Wick world. And so much feels both half-assed (e.g., the not naming the dog bit) and predictable (he’ll kill all these guys, then her, then him), that I began to zone out. It felt like they blew their budget on stunts and neglected the screenplay.

    You do an admirable job of imposing symbolic meaning on the director’s choices, Stu, but for me they just made me think of better films. The hall of mirrors obviously made me think of “Enter the Dragon,” and JW2 brought nothing new to that idea except some neon. The whole idea of a shoot-em-up in an art museum (literally high and low art winking at each other) was more shocking in “The International,” the otherwise forgettable Clive Owen movie. And it wasn’t Laurence Fishburne who reminded me of “The Matrix,” but Ian McShane, when he ( SPOILER ) was able to to make a hundred people freeze at his command. (And he was outside his hotel — Whaaa?!) The woodenness of Keanu’s final line wasn’t surprising, but it was to its detriment that for me it echoed the much better part of “The Limey” where Terrance Stamp yells, “Tell him I’m coming!” Finally, while I DID really like the 70s paranoia feeling of the ending, again the tracking shot of the protagonist limping away reminded me of something top notch: David Thewlis lurching down the road at the end of Mike Leigh’s “Naked.” Whew!

    • Fair enough. I can appreciate that this kind of thing ain’t everyone’s cup of tea. It doesn’t have the “smack in the face out of nowhere” impact of the original John Wick… but I just put that down to the simple fact that it’s a sequel. There’s no getting away from that is there?
      You really think they neglected the screenplay? If anything I thought it was richer and more detailed. In the first film the Continental seemed to be shrouded in the shadows. This second one I found showed more of that whole world and I feel like I learnt more in terms of what it was all about. Oh well.

      • The Magic Hunter

        It’s certainly true they showed more of the made-up world, but, as you said, they couldn’t repeat the smack in the face of the first one. So it didn’t do much for me to learn that there’s a similar hotel in Rome, etc.

        It LOOKS great, and I would recommend that anyone who liked the first one (or shoot-em-ups in general) go see it, just to form their own thoughts.

  • I still need to see John Wick 1. :/
    I’m leery of seeing it because I heard a puppy dies. I don’t need to see or hear that.

    • The film ? doesn’t dwell on it… But yeah I know what you mean. John Wick sure gets revenge though!

      • Alright, I’ll give it a shot. It’s the same reason I’ve seen Dances With Wolves all the way through only once, and many, many times partially. I can’t stand seeing the death of Two-Socks and Cisco.

        • I hate seeing animals hurt in movies.
          When I was 15 I was on holiday with my parents, another kid who was a bit older than me threw a rock at a stray dog on the beach.
          I ain’t violent at all… But I hurt that motherfucker that day. He knew what a concrete step tasted like!

          • Nice!

          • Seeing kids or animals get hurt either physically or emotionally makes me lose my shit.

          • Yes, same here. It’s the whole “defend the defenseless” thing for me. However, by watching The Sopranos I learned that I might also be a criminal sociopath: “The criminal sentimentality reveals itself in compassion for babies and pets”. :/

          • Scary ? thought!

    • It is a bit harsh but it’s not distasteful. The dog element is very necessary to drive the story. It’s that particular small act of cruelty that’s the impetus for the whole film.

      • I think John Wick was heading for some kind of meltdown anyway though.

        • Haha. Arguably the films are the meltdown.

          • I don’t think it was just about the dog. I think Wick wanted to take his grief out on someone, but needed a valid excuse.

          • Well definitely. The dog is very clearly the catalyst for the grief he’s never been able to express; and being the wife’s final gift it carries more emotional weight. It’s a strangely intimate moment to capture a protagonist during; I think that’s why the film struck a chord with people.

          • Yeah,exactly.

          • The more I think about it the more of an anomaly it seems. It’s the antithesis of someone like Bruce Willis in Die Hard, who may hint at signs of damage, but is still the consummate hard-man. Those films are always ‘they hurt someone I know so I justifiably killed 400 people’, and they’re necessarily superficial or you’d just think they were psychopathic murderers. With Wick, you get the same dynamic of outsider pulled into the fray, but you immediately sympathise with him, despite the fact that he’s a killer – a fact which fully explains his Liam Neeson – like skills. Whereas Neeson’s character could not possibly maintain a proper family life as he does in those films, Wick has no family, and has a background of being utterly ruthless, so he has a kind of fantastical credibility you accept. It reminds me much more of Hong Kong cinema than anything from Hollywood.

          • Agreed. Wouldn’t it be cool to get Chow Yun Fat in part 3? ?

          • Definitely.

          • That would ROCK!!!

          • KGrimes

            A big part of why it worked so well for me is the mythos surrounding Wick–the way everyone cowers when they hear his name, establishing him as a bloody force of nature, then the revelation early on that when he finally found his humanity in his wife everyone did everything they could to stop it from happening, and he STILL achieved a life-after-killing. And then, after all that hard, impossible work, the universe and his enemies took it all away from him. By that point you’re as anxious for him to get his vengeance as he is.

            The storytelling in this film is well-above what these types of movies usually deserve–the first five minutes explaining his love interest/death is some of the best first-act storytelling and editing I’ve seen in yrs; It’s done quickly (but not rushed), has an emotional weight, and sets up the impetus for the entire film. It really is the definition of economical and effective.

          • Totally agreed. Films can be as much about what you don’t show as what you do, and this one uses that principle to make a sandwich into a banquet, so to speak.

          • Yeah. It also allows us to feel sympathy and root for someone who would be a bad guy in a different movie. Kind of plays with audience expectations and I like that.

      • Thanks. I can definitely get behind the revenge aspect.

      • KGrimes

        The way it’s done shows a lot of heart and taste. And keeping the violence off screen adds so much more to the emotional moment than it would have otherwise. The bloodtrail… Oh! My heart.

        • Oh man… next time I watch John Wick I think I’m going to have to fast forward through that bit!

    • KGrimes

      John Wick is up there with Dredd and The Raid for modern action. Definitely a must-see if you’re into this kinda stuff.

      • Bop

        That is an excellent triple bill. I should do a movie night with those 3 movies.

  • I’ve not read that because I’ve had i somewhat spoiled over at the Site That Shall Not Be Named. But I’m glad you enjoyed it. I look forward to this.

  • Bop

    Can’t wait to see this.