by Benjamín Harguindey
A sequel to the surprise action hit John Wick (2014), John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) raises the bar in ways that also defy expectation. Rather than going for a bigger bang, ‘Chapter 2’ takes relish in further building up and detailing the offbeat, borderline surrealistic world of hitman John Wick.
At the beginning of the first movie Wick (Keanu Reeves) was widowed and retired, a broken man left with nothing of value – sumptuous mansion notwithstanding – save for a cute puppy, bequeathed by his late wife. In what’s basically a double reversal of Blake Snyder’s screenwriting manual Save the Cat!, the dog is killed by some punk and Wick winds up going back into action and taking on the entire Russian mafia on his path to revenge.
The plot is as simple as the title of Snyder’s book suggests, but what more do you need in an action flick other than an instantly likable hero? That dead puppy was so much more effective at blessing Wick’s bloody crusade than your average kidnapped sweetheart. Coupled with the comeback power of a vintage action hero – if you could call the 50-year-old Reeves that – and the cool, slick direction of debutante Chad Stahelski (Reeve’s stunt double/coordinator in the Matrix movies), John Wick was one of 2014’s most delectable surprises.
Now comes ‘Chapter 2’, which doesn’t kick off as effectively – a former criminal associate comes to collect a blood debt, in the process torching Wick’s manor as well as his wife’s one surviving picture – but brings back Wick into the game, which is good enough.
He’s tasked by Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) with flying to Rome and taking down his sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini), who holds a coveted seat at the “High Table”. Wick is compelled to for having imprinted his bloody thumb into Santino’s “Marker” (a doubloon-like locket). And as the fatherly arbiter of Wick’s quaint underworld, Winston (Ian McShane), is quick to remind him, their kind lives and dies by two rules – one of which is to honor Markers (the other rule is: no killing at the Continental, the chain of luxury hotels that lodges “members” – assassins – throughout the world). Break any of these rules and you become “excommunicado”, which is no fun.
These movies basically run on playground logic – a violent free-for-all that holds few yet precious rules; rules so peculiar that following them is way more exciting than breaking them. On this note, there’s a sense that everybody involved in this movie is having a blast taking everything so damn seriously (beginning with screenwriter Derek Kolstad) – Peter Stormare as Tarasov, who’s sheer terror of Wick makes for a great intro; Lance Reddick and Peter Serafinowicz as Continental employees who aid Wick with professional gusto; Ruby Rose and Common as recurring boss fights and last but not least Laurence Fishburne as the Bowery King. Reeves‘ reunion with the fellow Matrix alumnus is short but priceless.
The world itself looks and feels so much more attractive than your average action movie, which usually defaults to gunmetal realism. John Wick: Chapter 2 dresses up everybody in slick business suits and sets them loose in chic locales like hotels, museums and art galleries, while blending in a certain vintage sensibility – we see the Continental’s switchboard operators broadcasting bounties among its members, while the Bowery King’s men disguise themselves as homeless and utilize homing pigeons, and everybody barters with special golden tokens that might as well be Monopoly money.
Action takes the familiar form of gun-fu (a mixture of judo and close-quarters shooting), clearly staged and choreographed by Stahelski, who makes the most out of every shot and camera movement. Far from, say, blowing the budget on bigger sequences or delivering crazier stunts, and as opposed to the story’s flashy lore, action is mostly grounded and hinged on convenience. Wick is a practical fighter and we see him reusing the same grapples and techniques over and over simply because they work for him. It’s particularly fun when undercover assassins start coming out of the woodwork and attacking Wick out in the open while trying to keep a (comically) low profile.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is more of the same, and then some. Moreso than the first movie, it expands on its characters and the trappings of its bloody urban-fantasy world, and ends on a note that screams ‘Chapter 3’. I know I was inwardly screaming for a ‘Chapter 3’ as the credits rolled.
Benjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).