Movie Review: John Wick Chapter 2 (2017)
“Never stab the devil in the back”
John Wick Chapter 2 (2017)
Director: Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane
Synopsis: John Wick discovers there is a price on his head after he is compelled to carry out a hit to settle a debt.
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While a sequel to John Wick was inevitable, its quality was not so guaranteed so it’s a relief to find that the second chapter in the story of Keanu Reeves’ (The Matrix Revolutions, Knock Knock) dour, melancholy hit man is every bit as intense and breathtaking as its predecessor. The key elements of the plot could be written on the back of a postage stamp with room to spare for the credits, but that doesn’t matter because the John Wick franchise is all about cool fistfights and gunfights and this strangely appealing idea of a global society of hitmen existing anonymously alongside the ordinary world. Unlike so many directors following up on a hit movie, former stuntman Chad Stahelski never loses sight of just what it was that made the first film a hit, yet endeavours to expand on the Wick universe rather than visiting the same old places.
Having drawn a line under the vengeance mission which fuelled the plot for the first chapter, Wick is visited by fellow assassin Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) who calls in a debt that Wick is compelled to repay under the code of the Guild to which they both belong. To clear the debt, D’Antonio orders Wick to kill his sister (Claudia Gerini), whose imminent ascendancy to the High Table he feels should be his. However, carrying out the hit only results in D’Antonio placing a price on Wick’s head which every assassin in the Guild is keen to collect, and he finds himself fighting for his life while attempting to seek revenge against D’Antonio.
John Wick Chapter 2’s meagre storyline is more than compensated for by a constant stream of imaginative and often ingenious action set-pieces. Unlike so many Hollywood directors these days, Stahelski refuses to substitute rapid editing and close-ups for sophisticated choreography in his fight scenes, and allows Reeves to draw on the kind of moves he perfected for the Matrix movies. And the action scenes stand out thanks to their inventiveness and originality; a man using a pencil as a deadly weapon might sound lame on paper but makes for enthralling (and gruesome) action cinema in Stahelski’s hands, while a surreptitious low-key gunfight that goes unnoticed by the crowd that separates the gunmen proves to be just as invigorating because of its sheer audaciousness.
Like Stahelski, screenwriter Derek Kolstad returns to flesh out the strange, covert world inhabited by the Guild and its members, although by sketching in more details he somehow conspires to deepen the mystery in a way that leaves you wanting more. A subset of assassins who masquerade as tramps on the city streets and have a dressing room in which its leader Larry Fishburne slips into a silk robe, are an intriguing addition, and the unswerving loyalty shown by assassins to their wards adds yet another dimension which will hopefully be explored in future instalments.
Whether Stahelski and Kolstad can continue to maintain this standard across further episodes – judging from favourable reviews and box office revenue, there is sure to be at least one more instalment – is debatable, but until that third movie hits cinemas let’s just be grateful that the first two entries in the franchise are of such a consistently high quality.
(Reviewed 16th March 2017)