Ever heard someone say they’d kill for a vacation? Ex-assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) will do anything to retire, even if it means shooting everyone who stands in his way. But it seems like the Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops just aren’t going to fit.
What 2014’s “John Wick” did for tactical close range pistol-karate, “Chapter 2” does threefold, if that’s possible. It’s an exercise in precision bullet placement—like a really bloody, fast-paced game of Duck Hunt if you were using a Benelli M4 and the ducks shot back with fully automatic weapons.
What I like best about this film, as I did the first, is that the camera stays put for most of the fight sequences, as opposed to so many action flicks that are “created in the editing room” from a bunch of jiggly cam footage. DP Dan Laustsen and editor Evan Schiff make the actors work for their paychecks; it’s always better to see the star’s head attached to the body that’s throwing the punches. Keanu has always been suited to these physically demanding performances, and as much of a force of nature as he is, Wick is human enough to bleed—pretty much throughout the movie. Getting hit by a car four or five times, getting stabbed, shot, bludgeoned, and falling down several sets of solid stone steps between bouts will do that to you.
The opening sequence involves Wick returning to the lair of a Russian mobster (Peter Stormare) to reclaim his Mustang, which was stolen by the kingpin’s careless, ne’er do-well (and now deceased) nephew. Yes, this is the brother of the bad guy Wick killed in the last movie, and no, this isn’t “Die Hard With A Vengeance”; the vehicle is recovered and peace is made, at the expense of about thirty henchman.
Stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski surpasses his prior body count with rapid, dizzying fervor. Now officially out of the game, still mourning his recently deceased wife (Bridget Moynahan), Wick buries his weapons cache back in its vault of concrete just in time to have his house blown up by a flamboyant colleague/nemesis, after Wick refuses to honor the sacred marker (a blood oath) that he used to get himself out of the biz. The movie explains the rules, just go with it.
He returns to The Continental Hotel, an assassin-neutral haven overseen by Winston (Ian McShane), a strange sort of father figure who suggests that Wick obey the rules or face the consequences (excommunication = death). Forced into duty by fashion-conscious Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), Wick reluctantly heads to Italy to assassinate Santino’s sister (Claudia Gerini) at her coronation so the villain can claim her seat at the big boy table. Typical second child behavior.
Wick shows up at The Continental Roma (think of it like an embassy for really rich killers—his host asks if he’s there to kill the Pope), a setting that suits the saga’s progressively dystopian flavor. The tailor outfits him with cutting edge body armor, which pays for itself pretty quickly, and a visit to the sommelier offers a wide range of high-caliber varietals. On to an ancient underground labyrinth that will lead him to his target undetected, and back with bullets flying.
Wick is predictably (but who cares) double-crossed and a $7 million bounty is put on his head, opening all sorts of avenues for random gunfights and endless chases, and somewhere in there he puts a No. 2 pencil through someone’s brain stem. “John Wick 2” might have us believe that half of the population is composed of contract killers, who come out of the woodwork in droves like they’ve just been waiting around for a high-dollar mark to wander by.
This is Stahelski’s playground. Among these hundreds of expendable combatants, a rivalry emerges between Wick and Gianna’s bodyguard Cassian (played by Common), a brooding fellow who operates on Wick’s level of lethal efficiency. One of their duels encroaches on the Continental territory, where they pause for a drink at the bar.
Supporting cast includes John Leguizamo, Ruby Rose, and Morpheus–I mean, Laurence Fishburne (the reunion didn’t even register until after the credits had rolled), among others. Though “Chapter 2” wades (at one point literally) a bit far into the politics of the shady underground world that was established in its predecessor, with the gothy sets of an “Underworld” installment, this movie ultimately becomes what I’d hoped it would be: much, much (much) more of the same. This is the “La La Land” of action flicks. Derek Kolstad’s screenplay is lean and concise: “Bang, bang bang bang, bang. Bang.”
Area Theaters February 10th
—M. Parsons 2017