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Film Review: JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2, Keanu is Back Meaner and Bloodier

Film Review: JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2, Keanu is Back Meaner and Bloodier

If a movie that was obviously meant as a giant Keanu Reeves joke on the industry surprisingly makes bank, the laws of Hollywood dictate one and only one possible outcome: a sequel. In John Wick: Chapter 2, those that rewarded the original endeavor with their movie ticket dollars will themselves be treated to another helping of most of the elements that made the first film enjoyable.

Does the plot of this film really matter? Let’s skip to the important stuff: the life-paced speed of the action sequences that identified director Chad Stahelski’s style in the first movie returns with a vengeance here, and it works. You can actually see the action as it unfolds, methodically but grippingly so. The filmmakers are aiming—successfully—for realistic looking punches, convincing car chase scenes, and lifelike portrayals of blood and brains. That is now the defining characteristic of this franchise, and it makes for compelling viewing.

This hyper realistic portrayal does have its costs, perhaps it will turn off some of the squirmiest in the audience, at least when we get to neck-break, pencil stabbing, and eye gouging scenes. But those with the stomach (or even the appetite) for this type of violence will be amply rewarded.

Aside from realistic violence, just what is John Wick: Chapter 2 all about? Well, the reclusive titular character (played by Keanu Reeves) is trying to retire from his days as a diabolically ruthless and efficient assassin when a pesky Italian known as Santino (Ricardo Scamarcio) comes a’knockin to cash in one some overdue favors. Bound by duty and survival instincts to follow Santino’s disturbing request—that Wick off Santino’s own sister—Wick is thrust (unwittingly, of course) into a (dangerous, naturally) game of cat and mouse between forces beyond his comprehension. Cassian, the targeted woman’s bodyguard, played by Common, is but one of many individuals who will seek revenge on Wick for his deed, including Santino (that wily Italian!) himself.

So Wick must make minced meat of all of Santino’s sister’s stooges before he has to make hay of Santino’s.  All of this is to escape the many encounters he has with dozens of hapless goons, just another set of skulls for his bullets to demolish. If you did not know which came first—the movie or the videogame—you’d swear this is a real life adaptation of one of those gory first person shooter arcades where the trick lies in seeing how many times you can shoot before you have to reload. This sequence, of Wick encountering and mowing down tens of dozens of witless half-brain henchmen, repeats once, twice, then three times, but each time somehow still effective thanks mostly to the style of the action sequences that John Wick made its signature.

The eardrum splitting explosions compliment over-the-top music, exaggerated dialogue, and overly complicated alliances and underground networks. But it all kind of works in a campy way, what with the little reprieves of oafish humor in between the last shootout sequence and the next. Non-sexualized female assassins also make an appearance here, this time a deaf killer played by Ruby Rose, also providing some of the film’s most enjoyable light-hearted moments. Keanu Reeves obviously is still not taking himself seriously, and he is complimented by the delightfully stoic performances by Common and by Laurence Fishburne as the mob king of an underground network of New York City homeless people. Remind me never to give those guys a quarter again!

Nothing really surprising or innovative happens as Wick weaves and shoots in and out of trouble. The film’s steadfast commitment to real-life action sequences forces it to retreat from the endless car-destruction sequences that littered the first film, and into the shoot them all in crowded places (the subway, a museum, the Roman catacombs) that covers the second. When the filmmakers feel as if they’ve resorted to that parlor trick one too many times, they simply up the ante by making the shots bloodier, and meaner.

Never mind that there is a bizarre juxtaposition with the supposedly crafty villains here and their use of rotary phones and paper archival systems. It’s all just fun and gun games, nothing to be taken too seriously. The filmmakers are at least aware of themselves and their genre, and they are loyal to it. They stick not only to their internally crafted rules, but also to those of the theme itself, straying only rarely into needless sentimentality or other distractions.

Most impressive, perhaps, is how self-assured John Wick: Chapter 2 is of its own cleverness, and of its own potential to please the devoted audience. The movie is decent enough so that the gamble may well pay off. Those plotlines that they set up in the film’s closing moments, those obviously priming it for a sequel, may go to use after all in the next installment.

Check out Keanu Reeves when John Wick: Chapter 2 hits this Friday.

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About The Author

J. Don Birnam

J. Don Birnam, a voting member of the New York Film Critics Online, has been a movie lover since he saw the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film in theaters at a tender age, and has been a devoted student of American film history every since. His favorite films range from Back to the Future to West Side Story, depending on the time of day, and has a mildly unhealthy obsessions with the Academy Awards. Any similarity with the slightly unstable writer in the seminal 1944 film ‘The Lost Weekend’ is pure coincidence

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