Everything about John Wick was a surprise. It did OK at the box office, better than OK with the critics and went on to gain a large cult following on streaming and DVD/Blu-ray. Star Keanu Reeves and director Chad Stahelski (one of Reeves’ Matrix stunt doubles) are back with a sequel that’s more ambitious and a lot more bloody-minded.
The action picks up where the last film left off. While Wick had revenged himself on the Russian punks who killed his puppy and stole his ’69 Mustang–that was all it took to send the ex-hitman into full war mode–he hadn’t yet retrieved the car. The action begins at the NYC chop shop where more unsavory Russians have the car stashed; the first set piece has Wick brutally killing a dozen or so gangsters before retrieving his ride, and then killing another dozen or so on the way out.
On of the smart aspects of the first film was the casting; it’s even better in the sequel, with Common, Peter Storemare, Franco Nero, and Ruby Rose (blah in Resident Evil 6, but terrific here as a deaf hitwoman) joining the returning John Leguizamo and Ian McShane. The script gives each performer good moments and quality lines. Wick even has a new dog, just as cute as the first one.
The amount of violence is ridiculous–really, just jaw-dropping. New York is absolutely infested with hired killers posing as sanitation workers, the homeless, business persons and subway buskers. (Please don’t anyone show this to the President; it confirms his vision of “American carnage.”) And Keanu’s Wick kills them all, on street corners, in museums, in bars and that swanky new PATH station at the World Trade Center.
The hints of an underground, secret society of killers in the first film–the gold coins, the neutral ground of the Continental Hotel–are expanded into something out of a Fritz Lang silent. There’s a mostly analog clearing house of international murder, staffed by a small army of tattooed women at old-time telephone switchboards. There are more rules with blood oaths, and a high council of international crime. It’s frankly ridiculous, but I mostly enjoyed it. Laurence Fishburne is delightful as a beggar king, controlling crime below 14th Street with an army of subway grifters and a fleet of messenger pigeons.
It’s nice to see Reeves and Fishburne on screen together again. The Matrix and Wick films have only action in common; you’re not going to find any of the Wachowski’s humanism here. Yet, the second films in each series are structurally similar: Each expand the films’ cinematic universes, in ways that are both audacious and off-putting, and each end with a cliffhanging climax that seems impossible to follow up. The last Matrix film ended up being a something of a bummer; I’ll be interested to see where John Wick and his dog are headed.
Wherever it is, there will be blood.
John Wick Chapter 2, directed by Chad Stahelski, starring Keanu Reeves, a Summit Entertainment release