One man and his dog… just can’t catch a break. Keanu Reeves is back for more action in ‘John Wick: Chapter 2‘…
Viggo Tarasov: It’s not what you did, son, that angers me so. It’s who you did it to.
Iosef Tarasov: Who? That f#cking nobody?
Viggo Tarasov: That “f#ckin’ nobody”… is John Wick. He once was an associate of ours. They call him “Baba Yaga.”
Josef Tarasov: The Boogeyman?
Viggo Tarasov: Well John wasn’t exactly the Boogeyman. He was the one you sent to kill the f#cking Boogeyman!
Iosef Tarasov: (stunned) Oh…
Viggo Tarasov: John is a man of focus, commitment, sheer will… something you know very little about. I once saw him kill three men in a bar… with a pencil, with a f#cking pencil. Then suddenly one day he asked to leave. It’s over a woman, of course. So I made a deal with him. I gave him an impossible task. A job no one could have pulled off. The bodies he buried that day laid the foundation of what we are now. And then my son, a few days after his wife died, you steal his car and kill his f#cking dog.
The events of that conversation set up the basic idea behind the first John Wick, the Killer of Killer’ is drawn back into a violent world on which he had turned his back following the death of his wife, the theft of his car and the murder of his dog. The Russian Mafia had spent years building an empire and John Wick spent hours tearing it apart before walking away once more, with a new dog, and hopefully a new beginning. But a John Wick 2 in which one man and his dog lead a quiet and peaceful existence wouldn’t really be the sequel we’re waiting for… and if you thought John Wick was hardcore, then be warned… this time around John’s Wick’ed!
A violent pre-credits sequence narrated by another Russian ganglord (played by Peter Stormare) finds Wick tracking down and retrieving his 1969 Mustang, before heading home . Note: he doesn’t just walk into a garage and ask nicely for its return, and the garage is left a little messy by the time he leaves.
A few minutes later and we learn that when Wick left the hitman world behind, it was at a cost. An Italian Mafiosa (Riccardo Scamarcio) calls in his marker for something he did that was an essential part of Wick completing his impossible mission, and despite Wick’s reluctance to pick up the tools of his trade once more, the code of the hitman is a complicated one. He consults Manager Winston (Ian McShane) at the Continental Hotel (the luxurious refuge of all hitmen, no business can be conducted on the premises at any cost) and is forced to accept the consequences of his obligation. He heads to Rome to conduct his assignment: assassinate Scarmacio’s sister.
He completes his assignment but of course the death of a Mafiosa’s sister, even if ordered by the Mafiosa himself is never going to be forgotten or forgiven…
Winston: You stabbed the devil in the back. To him this isn’t vengeance, this is justice!
John Wick 2 director – Chad Stahleski- and his connection with his leading man goes back a long way, much further than the original John Wick (which saw America’s premier action-movie maker’s 8711 two founders David Leitch and Chad Stahleski sharing the directors chair). Stahleski first doubled Reeves on the original Point Break, and has worked with him on projects ranging from The Matrix franchise through The Replacements, Constantine and Reeves’ directorial debut Man of Tai Chi. The first movie was a sleeper hit at both the cinema and on bluray/DVD etc… audiences enjoying the action of the first film which saw Reeves as the ‘avenging angel forced to walk the road of vengeance’.
For the sequel, Stahleski and returning writer Derek Kolstad weave a very entertaining if slightly overlong adventure, one which expands upon the world and mythos introduced in the first film. A somewhat surreal world where hitmen live to that code of honour and gentlemanly behaviour at times, Commodore 64s are the computer of choice and each of the Continental Hotel’s offers a warm welcome from a manager you would not like to upset. In Rome the duty manager is non other the original D’jango Franco Nero, and the hotels offer gun showrooms where Peter Serafinaweitz can supply a wide range of vintage and hi-tech weaponry… and offer Kevlar lined tailor made suits.
Stahlaski has spoken of his interest in helming a James Bond movie and much like 007, Reeves’ John Wick openly roams the world, instantly recognisable to everyone he encounters and able to cope, it seems, with every social situation,. And he’s a cunning linguist to boot.
The film’s fights and stunts are a fantastic combination of high impact and increasingly high octane action, staged by veteran choreographer JJ Perry (Undisputed 2), mixing crisp unarmed combat, making use of Judo, Jujitsu, Taekwondo, all manner of MMA, Kali’esque knife work, twisted steel car chases and heroic bloodshed gun-play. The action is superb and its nice to see more than a few nods to some classic action movies in the action sequences: there’s Special ID styled scrapping with its choreographer John Salvitti was rolling on the mats with the 8711 team, while John Woo’s classic A Better Tomorrow gets a nod as Reeves prepared for a hit, tucking away various guns for later use. The finale in a hall of mirrors references both Enter ther Dragon and Orson Welles’ Lady of Shanghai. It’s also refreshing to see Western-staged action that isn’t being subjected to excessive shakey-cam and rapid fire editing that detracts from the beauty and the skill of the performers. The action in John Wick 2 is shot and presented the way it should be, its visceral and violent and we get to see what’s actually happening and who’s doing what, and – n of stuntmen and women who certainly earned their stunt bumps on this movie!
Among the supporting cast it’s great to see rapper turned actor Common (who previously banged heads with Reeves on camera in Street Kings) as a worthy rival and almost mirror image to Reeves character. Ruby Rose (Orange is the New Black, XXX: Return of Xander Cage) gets to make the most of her role without saying a word. Common gets to trade blows verbally and physically with Reeves, including a brutal knife fight while Rose throws herself into the action as a mute assassin with a sense of style and humour. Reeves is reunited with his Matrix costar Laurence Fishburne in a role that nods its head to their Matrix past, Forest Whitaker’s urban Samurai from Ghost Dog, and also Fan Siu-won g’s street sleeping assassin from The Moss. Franco Nero’s appearance is fun, its great to see the brief return of Bridget Moynahan as Reeves’ dead wife and John Leguizamo is the diminutive but dangerous car expert from ‘Part One’. Ian Mcshane returns with a larger role and a Lovejoy‘esque twinkle in his eyes as his charcater’s role is expanded and the level of power he commands is explored further. Lance Reddick as the ‘Duty Manager’ makes a welcome return and hints once more at a lot of potential depth to his character.
My only real disappointments are with Riccardo Scamarcio just doesn’t seem to be strong enough as a villain – he’s sarcastic and stylish but he lacks that sense of menace (imagine what Antonio Banderas could have done with the role) and the movie is just a tad too long with the finale starting to lose some of its sense of excitement (I love my gunplay, headshots and head punching all the way… but even I was starting to get numb!) before… SPOILER …the final reel sets up the premise for a third film as the whole world it seems will out to get John Wick and his dog!
Stahlaski certainly delivers and it’ll be interesting to see how well David Leitch fares with Unknown City and the upcoming Deadpool 2. Stahleski knows how to handle action and keep it in the family, his wife the wonderfully named Heidi Moneymaker pops up as a violin strumming assassin at one point, and he’s no slouch with the drama.
Stahleski is now attached to the much delayed Highlander reboot and has spoken of his ideas on how to explore the world of the entire Highlander franchise from film-to-tv (hopefully he’ll ignore the whole Zeist subplot from Highlander 2) and with his interest in helming a James Bond movie, and we could handle that. He’s also hinted at returning for a third chapter of John Wick at the movies and touched upon ideas on exploring the world of gunmen and gentlemanly goings on at the Continental, which we could also buy into!
Big thumbs up to Reeves, Stahleski, JJ Perry and the rest of the team for John Wick 2: its got that sense of heroic bloodshed that brings back the best memories of John Woo at his best, and there’s nothing wrong with that!