Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following review of JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2
No trait is more justified than revenge in the right time and place. — Meir Kahane
As the late singer Jim Croce said, “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger, and you don’t kill John Wick’s puppy and steal his vintage car.” Actually, I don’t think he said the last part, but it’s definitely true if you value your life.
John Wick, written by Derek Kolstad and directed by Chad Stahelski, was a great action film which brought Keanu Reeves back into the fold as a leading man and a box office draw. Not since Speed or The Matrix (the original) has Keanu succeeded as a true action hero. The movie, about a retired assassin (Reeves) going back to the work he does best (killing) after members of a Russian gang murder his dog and steal his car, was a critical and box office success. So John Wick: Chapter 2 was just a matter of time.
The sequel picks up where the first film ends with Wick aka The Boogeyman tracking down his stolen car and taking it back. Like the pre-credit opening sequences in the James Bond franchise, the action, pacing and bloodshed is non-stop. Reeves appears to be in great shape and at the top of his game (he trained four months for the first film; probably more for this one). Given just enough time to bury his money and his weapons, he is pulled out of retirement yet again. This time because he owes a marker to Italian crime boss Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio). The marker is a debt owed that is symbolized by gold medallion. When the medallion is opened, Wick’s bloody thumb print is seen instead of a selfie – a blood oath.
In the original John Wick, there was only one rule that all assassins had to abide by – blood could not be spilled in the Continental Hotel which was run by Winston (Ian McShane). It functioned as a Switzerland of sorts, where killers could seek haven and not be harmed. Apparently a second mandatory rule was added to the sequel – a blood oath is a contract that must be honored on pain of death. Who says there’s no honor among thieves? So with a bit of arm twisting (D’Antonio burns John Wick’s house down to the ground with a grenade launcher), Wick agrees to fulfill D’Antonio’s marker. (At least the dog wasn’t hurt in this one.)
D’Antonio doesn’t want a lot, just to have his sister Gianna D’Antonio (Claudia Gerini) assassinated so that he can take her seat on the “High Table” of crime lords. So Wick is off to Italy to do the deed (no wonder the sequel’s budget was double the first one). Without giving too much away, the marker is redeemed, but at a terrible price for Wick: D’Antonio puts an open contract for seven million dollars on his head to avenge his sister’s death. Now everyone in New York is out to get Wick from the incognito homeless assassin on Fifth Avenue to the incognito fiddle player assassin in the subway (trying to kill Wick becomes a more popular game than Powerball or Mega Millions). The situation is compounded by Gianna’s loyal bodyguard (played by the rapper Common) who tracks Wick to New York hell bent on revenge. Wick becomes a literal moving target for just about the entire population of New York City who turn out to be undercover assassins. (That explains a lot about the operations of NYC.) Wick must get to D’Antonio before everybody and their grandmother gets to him.
The action and body count is double the first one – as a good action sequel should be. Both films pay homage to John Woo, martial arts films in general and even Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns. In fact, in one article Director Stahelski noted that Sergio Leone’s 1966 The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was a heavy influence on the nature and style of the John Wick films as was Akira Kurosawa, William Friedkin, Sam Peckinpah and even Steve McQueen. What was especially cool was the amount of Gun fu battles present in both films, but especially the sequel. Gun fu – essentially kung fu but with weapons – is relied on heavily in the Hong Kong action films and used to great effect in the Wick franchise.
The cast is excellent. Reeves, who always has had somewhat of an aloof Steve McQueen-ish aura about him, particularly in his action films, has created and defined the John Wick ruthless persona. Yet, his versatility as an actor also allows us to see glimpses of an underlying, vulnerable core such as is seen in flashbacks with his deceased wife or his interchanges with his dog. (It’s interesting to note that the original character of John Wick envisioned in earlier drafts was in his mid-sixties – there’s hope for me yet.) Veteran actor Ian McShane is wonderfully mysterious and charismatic as Winston, the head of the Hotel Continental (in the same way that Ricardo Montalban was mysterious as Mr. Roarke in the television series, Fantasy Island.) The rapper Common shows that he can act as well as sing and can jump and kick with the best of them. His fight scenes with Reeves were simply awesome and set a new standard for cinematic hand-to-hand combat. Riccardo Scamarcio, an experienced actor from Italian cinema, hits just the right note as the whiny, sniveling crime lord who puts a contract out on his own sister. Australian actress Ruby Rose was pitch-perfect (no pun intended) as D’Antonio’s mute bodyguard. Her portrayal harkens back to the evil villainess Rosa Klebb in the James Bond film From Russia with Love. By far the biggest casting surprise, however, was reuniting Reeves with Lawrence Fishburne, his old mentor from The Matrix movies. It was nice seeing Neo and Morpheus together again, even if they are different characters in a different movie.
Even if you try to put a fancy tag on it like a “neo-noir action thriller,” in the final analysis it is what it is – a revenge movie and, as such, is thoroughly engaging and satisfying. Whether it’s John Wick or films like The Revenant, Payback, Man on Fire, High Plains Drifter, Death Wish, or even The Godfather, well-constructed revenge films appeal to our sense of justice and strike a vicarious chord with all of us. I cannot wait for the next chapter in John Wick’s life – I just hope they don’t hurt the dog.
I may have a leaning toward the drama and rom-com genres, but I’m a true fan of many action-adventure flicks as well. Give me some intense physical engagement underscored by a solid storyline, and the burst of adrenaline fuels me like the best of excitement junkies. That’s a good thing, too, since my husband/co-reviewer loves action films and at least that means we can find some common ground in the soft, cushy side-by-side seats of our local AMC.
So when we attended John Wick: Chapter 2 recently, I settled in for the fast-paced ride of this “neo-noir action thriller” written by Derek Kolstad, directed by Chad Stahelski. I loved the first, 2014’s John Wick, so I was certain I’d enjoy the second. Can’t beat two hours of Keanu Reeves anyway, can you? (And if you’ve seen the first, I’m happy to report no doggies went to heaven this time around.)
Now I knew what I was getting into – John Wick is a legendary hit-man. Not just your run-of-the-mill type of assassin, but a relentless, won’t-stop-‘til-you’re-toast, can’t -be-taken-down, practically-supernatural beast in a super slick and mighty expensive suit. He’s a man of few words but of action in excess.
Wick is tired of the life, however, it seems he can’t just walk away. When he’s lured back to the dark side by antagonist Italian crime lord Santino D’Antonio, he’s advised in no uncertain terms that he has to honor a “Marker” – a promise in the form of a blood oath medallion; and his next job is to kill D’Antonio’s sister, Gianna, so he can take what he views as his rightful place at the High Table of crime lords. After his initial refusal (which is promptly answered by a grenade launcher), Wick whisks himself off to Italy to begrudgingly fulfill his obligation. Simple? Not. Things don’t exactly go as planned.
The entire movie is a classic bloodbath – characteristic of and expected for this type of film. In many ways, it felt like I was watching a video game, though, with just about as much of a storyline. Don’t get me wrong, it was engaging and it ignited the requisite jump in heart rate and respiration of the adrenaline rush, but there wasn’t as beefy a plot as I might have preferred. In essence, it was a story that may have been told in 30 minutes, with about an hour and 30 of kill after kill after kill using everything from knives to a plethora of guns, bare hands and a pencil (yes, I said a pencil). No wonder my gamer sons enjoyed it so much.
Movies like John Wick and Keanu Reeves’ spot-on portrayal of the title character are surreal, but they draw you in as they skillfully and successfully suspend reality. It is pure escapist entertainment.
In addition to the commanding but grim and scowling Reeves, you’ve got the masterful chops of a stellar cast including Riccardo Scamarcio as the pure evil, sociopathic Santino; Ian McShane as Winston, the cool and collected owner of the Continental Hotel where one must refrain from all assassination business where the grounds must remain neutral. Ruby Rose nails it as Ares, Santino’s mute and ass-groping right-hand gal who countless times goes toe-to-toe with Wick. Claudia Gerini delivers a powerful portrayal as Gianna D’Antonio, Santino’s sister whose bound to have things her way. Rapper Common is fabulous as the unruffled Cassian, Gianna’s principal bodyguard and Wick’s formidable adversary. Lance Reddick is terrific as Charon, the all-knowing Continental concierge and supreme dog-watcher. The inimitable Lawrence Fishburne is a delight as the underground and pigeon-loving crime lord, Bowery King. And finally a cameo by the awesome John Leguizamo as Aurelio, auto body repairman extraordinaire.
With countless expertly-choreographed fight sequences, terrific CGI, and stunning locales, the non-stop action of John Wick is definitely a movie for any compulsive adventure-seeker. But make sure you’ve got the large bucket of popcorn (and maybe some Twizzlers) on hand because with that much adrenaline coursing through your veins, it’s bound to turn the hunger button up to ten (and if you don’t believe me, just ask researchers at Cornell University)! Thankfully for your waistline, it’ll probably be a few more years until the next installment!