REVIEW – JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2. With Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Common. Written by Derek Kolstad. Directed by Chad Stahelski. Rated R for strong violence throughout, some language and brief nudity. 122 minutes.
If there’s a problem with JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 is that it’s that we’ve lost the element of surprise. In the 2014 original, Wick (Keanu Reeves) was a retired hitman who is forced to fight back when–through no fault of his own–he gets on the wrong side of the Russian mob. It introduced us to an alternate reality in which contract killers had their own hotels, restaurants, services, and even coinage.
In this new entry, Wick cleans up the loose ends from the first film (wich a cameo from Peter Stormare as the new mob boss) and then looks forward to returning to retirement. However, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) has other plans for him. He hold a “marker” from Wick which means his refusal to perform a hit for D’Antonio violates one of the sacred rules of their world. D’Antonio “persuades” him, and Wick finds himself in Rome with the assignment of killing D’Antonio’s sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini).
This is where it gets complicated, because D’Antonio has done this as a way to amass power, but now Wick is a loose end. Soon Wick finds himself with a bounty on his head, chased not only by Gianna’s bodyguard Cassian (Common), but D’Antonio’s silent boydguard Ares (Ruby Rose), and anyone else who thinks they can take him out for $7 million. At one point, Wick has to reach out for help from the Bowery King (his “Matrix” co-star Laurence Fishburne) leading to shootouts and fight choreography topping everything we’ve already seen in this over-the-top movie.
Director Chad Stahelski is a stunt man who has served as stunt coordinator on numerous films. With the “John Wick” movies, he has taken full control, carefully constructing and choreographing action scenes that are violent, bloody, and almost balletic. Through it all there are the rules that must be followed, including Wick having to honor a marker and all the killers agreeing that the Continental Hotel in each city–where they hang out while on assignment–is neutral territory. When Wick and Cassian end a vicious fight by crashing into the hotel, the manager Winston (Ian McShane) reminds them of the rules, and they repair to the bar for a drink.
This is not a stupid movie by any means, but you’re also asked not to think too hard, but just go along with it. It works for the simple reason that the characters take the rules of their world seriously, even if we find them preposterous. By film’s end, the main story is resolved but there are a lot of loose ends (including what mechaninc John Leguizamo has done with Wick’s car) that will no doubt be addressed in the inevitable “John Wick: Chapter 3.”•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, will be released this month. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.