Dir: Chad Stahelski
Prod: Basil Iwanyk, Erica Lee
Screenplay: Derek Kolstad
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Ian MacShane, Common
Released by: Lionsgate
Running time: 122 mins
A sequel to a movie starring Keanu Reeves as a seemingly unstoppable legend that was wrapped up nicely as a standalone movie that did not need a second. Remember how that ended last time?
See review for first John Wick here
In this most anticipated of sequels, we are given a quick revisit to the structure and reasons for the first outing. John seemingly out to rest the demons of his rampage against the Russian crime boss and his spoiled son, by reuniting himself with the beloved car he so inexplicably allowed to be stolen. The car having been the cause of the aggravated burglary that the rest of the movie went out of its way to demonstrate would never have happened. This guy, who killed scores of highly trained gangsters with ease, was somehow picked off by Lily Allen's brother, in his own home no less.
So, after he gets his pride and joy back, he also destroys it, escaping from, and wiping out, the thugs that belong to the brother of the antagonist of the previous movie. This all ends rather strangely but with finality of sorts. The wrecked motor is taken away for repair by his ally Aurellio. A role played by the inexplicably unused John Leguizamo, an actor who is way beyond the minor exposition piece he plays in both films.
All is well until...yeah, it is John Wick so an obligatorily dramatic opening intro, the introduction of an antagonist in the form of Santino. He is there to call in a "Marker." A favour owed by John to Santino after the assistance given during the as-yet-undisclosed "Impossible Job" mentioned in the first outing. John rebuffs, claiming he is "not that man." Trouble will be coming though. He did such a lovely screed job on the floor as well.
We return to the Continental, John is informed that by refusing the marker (a blood oath) he is breaking one of only two rules set by the "High Table:" No violence on Continental grounds and ALL markers must be honoured. John relents to Santino after advice from burgeoning ally Winston (Ian McShane,) and takes on the job.
We are taken to Rome where we see "Gun-Fu" aplenty. There is exposition in a James Bond with Q style melee of guns, maps, and clothing. The action is thick and constant which will please those who appreciated this side of the first film. In a scene beautifully combined with a classical dance concert and extravagant light show, John has to take on Santino's crew. They are led by the irritatingly mute Ares (Ruby Rose) and the security detail of his charge, led by the capable Cassian (Common.)
John is swindled and is made an open target to any assassin willing to try. Many do just that with varying degrees of success ranging from almost to not quite. He even uses "a FUCKING pencil!"
We meet The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) who offers solace and help to John. A man who would not be at ease with the despotic Santino taking over his city so he is sympathetic to Johns's plight. Meanwhile, Santino plans to sit tight in The Continental until John is picked off by an assassin. Winston (Ian McShane) explains how John will not be outsmarted and berates him for ever trying to double-cross him, as well as for his naivete and cowardice in hiding behind Continental protection.
As the movie ends with a much more ambiguous conclusion, we always knew a third movie was coming. The first could have stood alone, the second leaves us wondering about Johns's fate. Cliffhanger on flat ground you might say.
Many praise Reeves for this role, but I struggle. The difference in his physical dexterity between the first two movies is more than tangible. He just appears slower, more clumsy in his movements and this, in turn, makes his "boogeyman" status (it appears someone double-checked what "Baba Yaga" actually means) a little hard to reach.
There is also the question of motive. The immensely unlikeable brat who killed his adorable puppy, whilst believing John to be an innocent man just because he liked his car, made it easy for us to root for John. Who didn't cheer when he finally offed Alfie Allen? However, now we have him in a pickle because of things he did in his past life. The "Impossible Job" we are sure to one day learn of. So I was not sure I would mind if John was killed this time.
Although plausibility might hamstring us there. The suits made of bulletproof fibre and wigs to withstand bullets, whilst being fun and super-cool makes for very much a Neo in Matrix Reloaded situation. The fight scene with Cassian goes on annoyingly long. Seeing bullets bouncing off each other and the absurdity of the steps they fall down. Too far. At least John had the decency to look cut up and bruised; Cassian's tie was still intact for lord's sakes!
The writing is a little lazy and things revealed themselves too early. One example is the obviousness of John and Cassian's grudging respect and admiration. All through that ludicrously long fight you KNEW it was going to end with the old "Buy you a drink" line. It does.
Further example of the creativity lull is the convenience factor. Okay, in the first outing we had The Continental, which was cool and subtle, and almost in a funny way, believable. However, now we have the whole world set to assist these assassins; in every shop, in every town there is help to be had. The contracting office full of middle-aged secretaries was stretching the "They walk among us" segment of plausible deniability as thin as it gets.
So is it a bad film? No. It is entertaining, well shot, and appeals to the John Wick in all of us. It is just becoming less of a thriller and more of a fantasy, and that is not a jibe, it is fact. We allow our faith to be tested but John Wick 2, and I suspect 3 and 4 are cashing cheques in one film genre and spending the money in another.