When John Wick hit theaters in early-2014 it was a shock to the cinematic system. Not only did it contain a return to form from America’s favorite savior Keanu Reeves but it was a stunning spectacle, harkening back to the real stunts of the 70’s-grindhouse era combined with Steve McQueen physicality. It was exactly what it was and nothing more, a refreshing middle finger to the bloated slate of spandex and robot punching that pollutes our summer months. John Wick has far more in common with The Raid than Transformers and was so much better for it.
Fast-forward three years and what do you think Hollywood is going to do, sit on this mid-budget gold mine!? Hell no is correct. Last we left John he had just gun-fu’d his way through the Russian mob after they brutally murdered his puppy, gifted to him by his late wife on her death bed. As far as I’m concerned that’s ample motivation for 2, maybe 3 JW adventures (I’m guessing at least 3) so it’s not a stretch to see John continuing to headshot his way down that rabbit hole in this installment.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is not concerned with plot (nor should it be) but the bare bones are that assassin’s in the underworld can leave a “mark” – a literal blood oath amulet that ties them to a job of the possessor’s choosing. John figured he was probably good but he forgot about one such mark held by an old adversary Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scmarcio.) D’Antonio has a simple task for John – murder his sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini.)
Santino wants her seat at the underworld “high table” – a proverbial King Arthur round table of shady motherfuckers (it’s never really explained what these guys do, I assume it’s a lot of U.N. style bickering and ninja star throwing.) Thus – John is off to Rome to complete his task so he can live in peace with his new pit bull (who has no name, but is very well behaved) forever.
This “story” is just an excuse for four major action set pieces – each in ascending order of brilliance. Throughout the film John battles the likes of Common and Ruby Rose in solo combat while moving through waves of faceless goons. It’s no understatement – these are some of the most beautifully choreographed action scenes in an American action film I’ve ever seen.
Keanu is a very convincing, physical star – whose wooden line readings only mildly distract from the fact he’s in his mid-40’s and VERY good at kung fu. Many of the action scenes are filmed from afar, in one sustained cut making it even more apparent how much brilliant work went into them. And the final action scene is unlike anything on screen – I’m still racking my brain to understand how they pulled it off.
On this merit alone JW2 is worth the price of admission. Sure, you’ll probably chuckle at the silly back-and-forth’s between assassins, roll your eyes at the seemingly endless amount of bureaucracy that governs the underground lifestyle and cackle at the fact John seems to be able to walk anywhere fairly quickly in New York City. But it’s a wild ride that delivers where it matters most – breathless thrills and weird, silent movie theater high fives.