John Wick: Chapter 2

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John Wick: Chapter 2  (2017)    Summit/Action    RT: 122 minutes    Rated R (strong violence throughout, some language, brief nudity)    Director: Chad Stahelski    Screenplay: Derek Kolstad    Music: Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard    Cinematography: Dan Laustsen    Release date: February 10, 2017 (US)    Cast: Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, Claudia Gerini, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Peter Stormare, Franco Nero, Peter Serafinowicz, Bridget Moynahan, Thomas Sadowski, David Patrick Kelly.

 

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NOTE: No dogs are harmed or killed in John Wick: Chapter 2. I, for one, was relieved. Dog lovers can see this cool sequel with a free mind.

 If not for the scene where the titular character’s puppy gets killed by the Russian baddie, the first John Wick would be great. What am I saying, it is pretty great. I love action movies with high body counts and it definitely has that. In John Wick: Chapter 2, the body count continues. Keanu Reeves reprises his role as the supposedly retired hitman who gets pulled back into a life he thought he left behind when he got married. He’s a legendary figure in the criminal underworld. Just the mere mention of his name stops the most cold-blooded scumbag in his tracks. Everybody fears this guy. God help the person who makes the mistake of getting on his bad side.

John Wick-Chapter- The sequel, an even better movie than the original, hits the ground running with Wick showing up at a chop-shop to retrieve his car. As you may recall from the first movie, the trouble began when Wick declined to sell his classic car to the son of a Russian crime boss. It didn’t end when he killed both father and son. He avenged his four-legged pal, the final gift his wife gave him before she died of cancer, and now he wants his car back. The chop-shop is run by the brother of the crime boss (Stormare, Fargo) who isn’t completely surprised when Wick shows up. Wick makes short work of all his henchmen, destroying his car in the process, before he decides to spare the frightened man’s life.

 Just moments after burying his weapons in cement in his basement, somebody from the past shows up at his front door looking to bring him out of retirement. It’s an Italian gangster named Santino D’Antonio (Scamarcio, Burnt) looking to cash in the marker Wick gave him in exchange for allowing him to walk away from the life. Wick flat-out refuses without even hearing what Santino wants him to do. According to the rules, that’s a great big no-no. Wick forfeits his life if he refuses to honor the blood oath he made. For now, Santino just blows up his house. Knowing he has no other options, he agrees to take the job which entails assassinating the gangster’s sister because their late father chose her to take his place at the “High Table”, a council of high-level crime lords, 12 in all. He believes it’s his birthright. If Wick succeeds, his debt is paid and he gets to walk away, right? WRONG!

 In movies like this, something is always bound to go wrong. In John Wick: Chapter 2, a few things go wrong…. for Wick, that is. First, Santino tries to have Wick killed right after the job. Why? To avenge his sister, of course. Something like that can’t go unpunished, can it? Second, the sister’s head bodyguard, rival hitman Cassian (Common, Run All Night), takes the killing personally. Since it happened on his watch, he’s obligated to kill Wick in retaliation. Third, and most definitely NOT least, Santino puts a $7 million bounty on Wick’s head meaning that every professional assassin in the world will try to claim that bounty at some point.

 John Wick: Chapter 2 has a solid storyline, simple yet filled with details that bring you into the world depicted in the movie. One of the many genius things the makers do is create a microcosm with its own sets of rules and codes of honor. For example, there’s this luxury hotel called the Continental that serves as a refuge for hitmen. Actually, there are several of them around the world. The staff provides everything their guests could possibly need from new suits to deadly weaponry. One of the cardinal rules laid out by the manager of the New York location, Winston (McShane, Deadwood), is no conducting business in the hotel. Translation, NO KILLING! You know damn well that rule will be broken before movie’s end. When a hit is put out, it goes through a system of telephone operators who treat each one as a bank transaction. Shortly thereafter, every assassin in the network receives a text with details of the job. The world being built for the John Wick series rivals that of any comic book universe.

 This is all well and good but let’s talk about what you really want to know. Is John Wick: Chapter 2 a good action flick? HELL YES IT IS! There’s plenty of great kick-ass action and lots of bloody violence. Unlike many recent movies, the action scenes aren’t overedited to the point of confusion about who’s kicking whose ass. They’re filmed mainly in long-shot giving us a good look at the hero shooting opponents in the head which he does every time. There are shootings, stabbings, beatings and one cool scene where Wick dispatches somebody with a pencil to the ear canal. Another fellow gets sliced through the groin. There’s plenty of bang, crunch and splatter for your bucks.

 Once again, Keanu is awesome as the brutal, laconic hero (or is it anti-hero?) who just wants to retire to a life of quiet. Not only does he perform the physical aspects of his character with the grace of Fred Astaire, he also conveys his character’s loneliness and isolation. The death of his wife (and dog) hit him hard and he’s still learning to cope. Is there any better coping mechanism than taking out about 100+ bad guys? His Matrix co-star Laurence Fishburne shows up as Bowery King, a crime lord who provides Wick with invaluable assistance in his quest to kill Santino, something he couldn’t do until he paid off his debt. Again, it’s the code. His role is brief but memorable. I expect he’ll have a bigger role in future installments. Common shows real coldness as Wick’s main rival. The way they glare at each other while calculating their next moves is a nice touch. Australian model Ruby Rose plays Santino’s mute henchwoman who communicates through sign language which everybody around her seems to be fluent in (how convenient!). Recently, she also appeared in the latest XXX and Resident Evil sequels. I see a future action star rising. Rose is totally bad ass.

 Directed once again by Chad Stahelski, John Wick: Chapter 2 is cool, awesome and bad ass! This is the kind of action flick I live for. There are several great action set-pieces. Even when the noise and dust settle, it’s still interesting because that’s when we learn the rules of this criminal underworld. It’s surprisingly intelligent for an action flick and just as implausible as any of them. Are we really to believe Wick can get beaten, shot and hit by cars as many times as he does and still walk away? Are we to believe that the cops never show up during ANY of the mayhem? Of course not but in a movie like this, who cares if it’s believable? As long as it’s cool, fast-moving and violent. It helps that the story and fight scenes are coherent. It also helps that the pooch makes it to the end. Here’s hoping he survives the next one and the one after that and so on. Bottom line, John Wick: Chapter 2 is the movie to see this weekend. It’s a great fix for action junkies and gorehounds alike. 

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