In my review on “John Wick” (2014), I wrote, “While it is strewn with lots of dead or injured bodies, “John Wick” looks more like a stylish joke as I reflect more on its rather amusing aspects after watching it.” While this comment of mine can also apply to its sequel “John Wick: Chapter 2”, the movie is a bigger stylish joke with more fun and excitement, and I savored it as appreciating how it skillfully and exultantly delivers what was promised in the previous film.
The movie starts at the point not so far from where the story of the previous film ended. In the previous film, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) tried to leave behind his infamous assassin career and live a happy normal life with his wife, but his happiness was cut short due to her terminal illness, and then he found himself thrown into a deadly conflict with a powerful Russian mob organization after its boss’ reckless son stole Wick’s sports car and killed a dog left to him by his dead wife. As an angry man with nothing to lose, Wick went all the way to kill his targets, and the underworld of New York City was certainly shaken a lot thanks to him.
During the prologue sequence, we see Wick sneaking into a place where his stolen car has been kept. That place is owned by a Russian gangster named Abram Tarasov (Peter Stormare), so Wick has to fight against a bunch of Abram’s henchmen, but, not so surprisingly, he succeeds in not only retrieving his car but also getting an agreement on the end of the conflict from Abram, who surely sees that it is wise not to mess further with a guy who was once nicknamed ‘the Boogeyman’ during his active years.
After that, it seems Wick can go back to his retirement life along with a dog he happened to acquire around the end of the previous film, but, alas, his old underworld pulls him back again when he thinks it is over. Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), a powerful Italian crime lord, comes to Wick’s house, and he wants Wick to assassinate someone as a part of their old deal. According to the rules of their world, Wick must do whatever D’Antonio demands, but Wick says no, and D’Antonio promptly shows that he is not someone who can accept rejection.
After realizing how serious the situation is, Wick goes to Winston (Ian McShane), the owner and manager of a very special hotel which functions as a neutral safety zone in the underworld of New York City. While this hotel looks like just your average luxurious NYC hotel on the surface, its clients are dangerous criminals as shown from the previous film, and I was amused again to see those shiny gold coins which are the common currency in their world.
After the private conversation with Winston, Wick sees that he has no choice but to keep an oath he made to D’Antonio at that time, so he goes to Rome, and the movie delights us as he gets a number of classy underworld services during his preparation process. As soon as he enters a similar hotel for criminals in Rome, he is greeted by its manager played by Franco Nero, and then he visits a number of places which can instantly provide what he needs for his assassination mission.
The most amusing place belongs to a guy called the Sommelier (Peter Serafinowicz). While his workplace is decorated with many bottles of wine as expected, it is also packed with various special firearms and other weapons, and we cannot help but chuckle as observing how courteously he recommends some of these weapons to Wick as if they were first-rate wines to be served during his ‘party’.
After serving us with such delicious moments like that as appetizers, the director Chad Stahelski moves onto the main course consisting of several superlative action sequences. Shrouded in shadows and lights, the assassination sequence pulsates with its striking noir atmosphere, and I like how it slowly builds up its momentum till a certain dramatic point and then swiftly shifts its gear to tense, visceral action mode. The subsequent sequences are equally impressive in terms of action and mood, and one of them is particularly memorable with the apparent homage to that famous climax sequence in Orson Welles’ “The Lady from Shanghai” (1947).
There are lots of physical actions especially after Wick later becomes targeted by numerous assassins, and they feel vivid and impactful because we can clearly see that the performers really put themselves into actions on the screen. While the result is often quite gritty and brutal with lots of killings, this is packaged with style and a bit of deadpan humor, and that is why I enjoy its violence a lot more than that relentlessly grim and blunt violence of “The Raid: Redemption” (2011).
And it surely helps that the performers in the film are convincing as much as the world inhabited by their characters. With his understated agility and gravitas, Keanu Reeves flawlessly inhabits his character, and Common and Ruby Rose are effective as Wick’s two different adversaries who are as lethal as him. While Riccardo Scamarcio is despicable as the big bad guy of the movie, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Peter Stormare, Lance Reddick, Franco Nero, and Peter Serafinowicz have a juicy fun with their respective colorful supporting characters, and the same thing can be said about Laurence Fishburne, whose appearance in the film will definitely take you back to when he appeared along with Reeves in the Matrix trilogy.
As the second part of the planned trilogy, “John Wick: Chapter 2” is thrilling and entertaining enough to make us wait for the final chapter. Like the previous film, this is a smart, efficient action film which cares about not only action but also style and mood, and I was alternatively thrilled and delighted during my viewing. It is so nice to see you again, Mr. Wick, and I hope you will come back soon.