Main cast: Keanu Reeves (Jonathan “John” Wick), Common (Cassian), Laurence Fishburne (The Bowery King), Riccardo Scamarcio (Santino D’Antonio), Ruby Rose (Ares), John Leguizamo (Aurelio), Ian McShane (Winston), Bridget Moynahan (Helen Wick), Lance Reddick (Charon), Peter Stormare (Abram Tarasov), and Claudia Gerini (Gianna D’Antonio)
Director: Chad Stahelski
John Wick: Chapter 2 is a rather unnecessary sequel, as there isn’t any point in continuing the story of the ex-assassin who gives the franchise its name, but I suppose any excuse to bring on more punch-fu and gun-fu is alright.
Set shortly after where we left off in John Wick, our dour grieving widower locates his car and gets it back after a bloody showdown with Abram Tarasov’s men. Living a quiet life of feeding and walking the dog when he’s not staring at the pic of the dead wife will have to wait, though, as a man from his past, mob upstart Santino D’Antonio, shows up demanding a repayment of a favor he did for John. This favor allowed John to go into retirement, so John really owes Santino big. John refuses, so Santino uses a rocket launcher thing to blow up the man’s house. Oh don’t worry, the dog survives. The boss of the Continental, Winston, who seems very fond and protective of John, tells our hero that the debt has to be repaid – it’s a law set by the organized body of assassins that boss over everyone.
So John reluctantly agrees to carry out Santino’s request: to kill his sister Gianna, a move that will allow Santino to take over her seat among the higher circles crime lord bosses in America. As you will see if you watch this movie, the crime bosses and assassins all work like a well-oiled political party where everyone dances to the official line or gets dead. John knows Gianna, which is awkward, and he also knows Gianna’s bodyguard Cassian. Everyone knows everyone here, oh dear. Gianna refuses to go down like a typical victim, so she opts to commit suicide in front of John, the two of them chatting like old friends until she expires. This doesn’t make Cassian any happier, so John has a new enemy now. Santino also sends his personal assassin, the mute but bloodthirsty Ares, and some goons to take down John once he succeeds, so John has another enemy as well. Oh dear, will he ever get the complete retirement like he wants?
Many of the colorful cast from the previous movie are back: the adorably droll and serious Charon, the charming yet ruthless Winston, the criminally underused Aurelio, John’s neighborhood policeman Jimmy who seems to know more about John’s past that one initially assumes. The new additions are a mixed bag, however. The Brewery King is pompous and self-aggrandizing, but he is serious business as he owns the beggars and the homeless that are his eyes in downtown New York City. Alas, Santino is a one-note smarmy villain that is nowhere comparable to Viggo Tarasov in the previous movie – his sister would have made a far more interesting villain. Ares feels bland compared to Miss Perkins, perhaps because she is mute and hence Ruby Rose can’t do much with her role. Speaking of which, Ruby Rose seems to be everywhere these days, isn’t it? As for Cassian, he is just sort of there. Maybe they are building him up for a bigger role in future movies, but this character as it is doesn’t make much of an impact here.
This movie also sees the expansion of the canon lore – the assassins are now revealed to be part of a larger well-oiled industry run by shadowy leaders that have everyone under them following tight rules and protocols to keep them from “behaving like animals”, as Winston puts it. Hence, John, which is part of the Continental suite, has access to fascinating “shops for assassins”-type of facilities such as a sommelier that recommends firearms instead of fine wine and a Savile Row-ish tailor who makes smart gentlemen’s suits that are bulletproof. It’s just fun to watch. This movie continues to pay homage to the calculated grace and melodrama of old-school noir and gun-fu movies, so it revels in audaciously cool and over the top elements, such as homeless people being actually skillful gun-totting folks.
However, this movie also wants me to believe that New York City and Rome have what seems like a thousand assassins all posing as normal civilians, waiting for a text message on their uniformly similar product-placement’ed phones to alert them of the latest bounties available. This one is really hard to take in because a part of me can’t help but to think that this is not good for business, having so much competition around.
Still, this movie retains much of what makes the previous movie so much fun – all the slick, stylish, and well choreographed action scenes with good old-school wholesome feel. Not too much CGI, no excessive and incoherent cuts, no annoying lighting – just people bashing and shooting. Although, the bad guys here do start to resemble Stormtroopers – they can’t aim for crap, even if John is within point blank range – which dampens my enthusiasm a bit. Nonetheless, these scenes are still so much fun to watch.
Also, the movie continues to build John up to be this tragic lone wolf sort that works very well with me. I mean, the poor thing has nowhere to go and no one to love other than the dog he kidnapped from the clinic at the end of the previous movie. Even after his house has been blown up, he still goes back there amidst the rubbles because it’s the only home he has. This may seem dumb on paper, but the movie sells it very well. There is something about John that embodies the quintessential “anti-heroic former assassin who only wanted love” archetype that was everywhere in old school noir, and I really like that.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is bigger and more bloated than its previous installment, so in a way, it lacks the earthy simplicity of the previous movie as well as a compelling cast of antagonists. However, it still retains much of what made the previous movie a blast, so I am still giving it four oogies.