Back in Black
Reviewed by Mason Manuel
High octane action. Tightly choreographed action. A next to silent protagonist. These are the hardly new qualities of most gritty action flicks since the 70’s. But the 70’s did not have Keanu Reeves. Nor did it have the tight direction of Chad Stahelski making every shot have weight. John Wick: Chapter Two takes the formula of the 2014 original and goes bigger and better in every possible way. Expanding on the underground assassin network that made the Wickverse unique along with more of Keanu doing his normal punch first and ask questions never routine makes for another successful entry in what is shaping up to be a stellar action franchise.
Though John Wick earned his vengeance over his slaughtered puppy in the first film, we find that he has yet to find peace despite his best effort. For instance, his (beautifully sexy) car is still being held captive by the brother of the Russian gangster lord that John beat the crap out of last entry (Peter Stormare), and despite trying to stay out of trouble is still finding himself haunted by ghosts from his past. Inevitably, John finds himself in the game again but rather than just staying in New York finds himself globetrotting to a number of unique locals primarily in Italy. An EDM heavy club, a trippy mirror house, and a labyrinth of underground catacombs prove themselves to be awesome battle arenas for John to practice his gun-fu on scores of nameless henchmen. Along with a virtual army against him, John also finds himself at odds with the Machiavellian head of the assassin’s Continental resort played by Ian McShane. Without spoiling anything, John Wick’s actions force him on the offensive with those once considered friends leading to some intriguing sequel bait that could end in the largest conflict he has ever seen. And given the hell that we have seen him go through, that’s quite the tall order.
Though the story is hardly the most compelling element of John Wick, the expansion of the universe this time around is quite interesting. We learn that the assassin underworld is in such plain sight that John can’t walk ten feet without running into a former colleague/adversary. That later turns out to be a major problem when an old associate of John’s puts out a massive bounty on his head for any assassin to claim. With so many of them roaming the streets living their daily lives, John has to keep his eyes constantly open just walking down a street. After a brutally visceral beginning the film slows down to show how John is still recovering from the loss of his wife which leads to emotional, but comparatively slow moments. However, by the second act the bullets start flying and they just, don’t, stop. Keanu shows that John Wick is his ultimate character and preforms stunts with impressive ability and some shocking executions. Only in the Wickverse can you find a finishing move involving nothing but a pencil, a knife to the groin, or hand shoved inside a bullet hole. Yes, it’s gruesome but that’s why you love it.
A more gothic world leads to more darkness but it is not without its own brand of dry humor. Laurence Fishburne and Ruby Rose bring their own sort of laughs to the table. One is an egomaniacal bastard who just enjoys watching Wick squirm while the other oozes sexuality and viciousness without saying a word. The problem is that these characters are ridiculously underutilized. Though both ultimately command the time they have on screen, it is so limited that it is confusing why they were added at all. I would have loved to see Ruby Rose’s Ares carry some more weight in her fight scenes but she only gets action in one of them, though admittedly it is the most artistic. Meanwhile Fishburne as the mysterious Bowery King hams it up as a sort of king of thieves and has a lot of obvious fun with his character as well as the long awaited Matrix reunion between himself and Reeves. But as soon as he pops up, he’s gone with only a hint of return for a sequel. It’s disappointing but at least is sows the seeds for more. John Wick: Chapter Two is brutally engaging and leaves you wanting more with every stab, shot, and vicious one liner uttered. RDR gives it an 8.6 out of 10.