JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2
Director: Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Common, Claudia Gerini, Lance Reddick, Laurence Fishburne, Franco Nero, Tobias Segal, Thomas Sadoski, Peter Serafinowicz, John Leguizamo, Bridget Moynahan
MPAA Rating: (for strong violence throughout, some language and brief nudity)
Running Time: 2:02
Release Date: 2/10/17
Review by Mark Dujsik | February 9, 2017
John Wick: Chapter 2 opens with the sounds of an unseen motorcycle speeding through the streets of New York City. As the camera moves down a building to find the vehicle, it happens upon Buster Keaton's "Sherlock Jr." being projected on a building—specifically the sequence in which the Great Stone Face's hapless detective narrowly escapes being hit by a train while riding on the handlebars of a motorcycle, before crashing into a stationary cart. The sounds of the real-world bike sync up with the images on the silent film within the film, and sure enough, the man on the motorcycle falls off his vehicle and slides along the street for a bit.
It's a good gag, and it's also a pretty daring one for director Chad Stahelski. Few things are going to raise the film lover's alarms and defenses more than channeling the spirit of one of, if not, the greatest physical comedians and stunt performers in cinema history within the opening beats of a movie.
Stahelski gets a bit of leeway, of course, since he directed the first John Wick, which turned routine action choreography into a study in efficiency. The action sequences in that film relied on the way its eponymous antihero married fisticuff and gunplay. One moment, he's punching a bad guy with a left jab, and the next, he's finishing a combination with pistol-aided, right uppercut. John Wick (Keanu Reeves) uses his gun as if it is an extension of fist. It wasn't balletic, because that's a cliché—and also because the guy seemed to be making it up as he goes. He's a ruthless killer, but he kills with a style that's unique and unapologetically, well, stylish.
The opening of the sequel doesn't just channel Keaton. It also sets us up for bigger things. Wick has unfinished business. He has killed the people responsible for killing his beloved dog. There's the matter of his stolen car, though, and that's the somewhat unnecessary question the prologue answers. The muscle car is being held by the brother (Peter Stormare) of the Russian mobster whose son killed Wick's pooch, and the assassin—whose nicknames here include "the Boogeyman," "the Ghost," and, my personal favorite, "Death's Own Emissary"—has come to retrieve it.
If Wick uses a pistol like a fist, it should be expected that he doesn't stick to the usual ways of operating a car. His driving skills are, as expected, quite refined (There's an amusing sight gag comparing the way he takes a mid-air turn with the way a henchman does). He also uses a car like a weapon—ramming into cars without a care for the vehicle's body or (apparently indestructibly) engine and spinning it to tackle a fleeing a goon. The sequence ends with Wick's old ways making a comeback, as he fights a few thugs in a warehouse. Stahelski shoots this in the familiar, appreciated way, too—from a distance and in long takes.
The actual plot of this installment (The film ends with the promise of another) takes, perhaps, a bit too much time to get started. Wick is called upon by Santino (Riccardo Scamarcio), the son of the recently deceased head of the Italian mob, for a favor. It's a bit more than a favor, though. It's a blood oath that Wick took for Santino's help in getting out of the assassin business.
Santino wants Wick to kill the gangster's sister (Claudia Gerini), who inherited leadership of the crime family from their father. When Wick refuses, Santino blows up his house (His new dog is spared this time around). Winston (Ian McShane), the manager of that mysterious hotel that lays down the law among hired killers, tells Wick that he has no choice but to agree to Santino's terms.
What follows, obviously, is a lot of killing in Rome, as Wick tries to evade the mob boss' security team (Common plays its leader), and back in New York City, where Wick has to contend with killers trying to claim a $7 million bounty that ends up on his head (The ratio of professional assassins within the population seems pretty high). The most notable difference here is the way Stahelski and screenwriter Derek Kolstad (also returning from the original film) expand the scope of those action sequences.
There's the mobility of the one in the prologue. There's the variety of location in one that goes from the bustle of a concert (The crowd cheers, thinking it's part of the show, after Wick shoots someone in the head on stage) to the labyrinth of underground catacombs, before turning into a one-on-one shootout in the streets and a brawl near a flight of stairs (The twice-repeated punch line might as well be part of a silent comedy). Wick's return to New York has him confronting a series of random killers on a sightseeing tour of the city's most iconic subway stops (By the way, it's one thing to hear about Wick killing people with a pencil, and it's quite another to actually see it).
As for the climax, one might not think it possible, but Stahelski gives new life to the old cliché of a standoff in a hall of mirrors. This funhouse-like set has multiple rooms of mirrored hallways with reflective surfaces that slide and rotate, and the director and cinematographer Dan Laustsen execute some simple but dizzying camera movement to heighten the confusion. One shot in particular stands out, as the camera, which appears to be looking up at a pair of combatants, suddenly moves in what would seem to be the wrong direction without losing sight of the fighters.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is a logical extension and clever expansion of its predecessor. Its protagonist and story may not have changed much, but Stahelski has more than a few new tricks up his sleeve.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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