Movie review: A well done welcome back to John Wick’s world
When the opening scene of a movie consists of a high-speed car and motorcycle chase through the nighttime streets of New York City … well, that movie has got my attention. And this energetic, extremely violent, darkly humorous, character-centric follow-up to 2014’s action-packed hit “John Wick” never lets up in keeping fans of that first one completely engaged.
Written by Derek Kolstad, and directed by Chad Stahelski, who both had the same creative duties the first time around (though Stahelski co-directed that one with David Leitch), the sequel picks up a day or two after the first one ended. Before getting down to a new story, the script finishes up the business that former hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) had concerning Russian gangsters and the theft of his 1969 Mustang. In Wick’s world, that means more crazy driving, accompanied by fist- and foot-fights and a few well aimed bullets.
Back at his isolated, many-windowed house, where his pup greets him, Wick is finally ready to enjoy the retirement he was seeking before a bout with revenge drove him back to work. But there’s a knock on his door and a visit from an old acquaintance, the steely-eyed Santino D’Antonio (Ricardo Scamarcio), who’s there to demand the return of a favor, one that involves Wick’s killing prowess. Looks like that retirement is going to be put off just a little longer.
One of the script’s many strengths is that it features an entirely fresh storyline, but it also regularly and subtly includes references to the first film. It smoothly ties together the old and the new, sometimes resulting in explanations of characters’ behavior, sometimes just having a little fun with Wick fans. Two hints: There’s more than just a passing mention of Wick’s legendary acumen on the many ways to use a pencil, and a very brief reappearance by a cop named Jimmy.
To appreciate that kind of thing, it would be a good idea for newcomers to see “John Wick” before sitting down to this one. Only that way will viewers grasp just how cool it is when Wick returns to the lobby of New York’s Continental Hotel — a home away from home for a bevy of nefarious folks — and once again says hello to the polite and fastidious concierge Charon (Lance Reddick), and later has a chat with the mysterious hotel manager Winston (Ian McShane).
But soon the scene switches to the lobby of the Continental Hotel in Rome, a place filled with equally shady guests, and where Wick is to begin the business that will square him with the favor he owes Santino. Again, the script offers up some tantalizing tidbits, such as Wick’s visit to a special tailor who fits him with a sleek and dashing — and bulletproof — suit, and to the hotel’s “sommelier” who, instead of expounding on the best wines in the house, shows Wick an array of weapons with which to do all sorts of harm. That scene, played completely straight by Reeves and Peter Serafinowicz, is one of the film’s best examples of dry humor.
But by then, everyone is primed for what’s to come: A barrage of violence that ranges from fantastically choreographed hand-to-hand combat, a good deal of it styled on judo and jiu-jitsu, and gun battles galore, the best one taking place and actually filmed in the Baths of Caracalla, below the streets of Rome. It’s in these instances that former stuntman Chad Stahelski really shines as a director, since he has a very good understanding of action sequences.
It’s 90 minutes into the film before a new character, the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), makes his appearance, and that’s an important moment for certain filmgoers, as it’s the first time Fishburne and Reeves have worked together since they played Morpheus and Neo in the “Matrix” trilogy.
Before “Chapter 2” is over, there’s lots more mayhem, a few additional adversaries, a bit more character development, a climactic dose of paranoia, and a plot point that leaves the door open for a Chapter 3. Bring it on.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now.
“John Wick: Chapter 2”
Written by Derek Kolstad; directed by Chad Stahelski
With Keanu Reeves, Common, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Ruby Rose, Laurence Fishburne