UK Release Date: 17th February 2017
Runtime: 122 minutes
Director: Chad Stahelski
Writer: Derek Kolstad
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Common, Lance Reddick, Laurence Fishburne, Peter Stormare
Synopsis: When an old promise drags him back into the criminal world he thought he had left behind, Wick finds himself battling the combined might of just about the entire shady underbelly of the world.
Perhaps the most instantaneously memorable action icon in modern cinema is Keanu Reeves‘ taciturn master assassin John Wick. The first film only arrived in 2014, but it swiftly became a cult classic and a sequel was greenlit before it even hit cinemas in the UK. Reeves is back this time around for another thrilling onslaught of ‘gun-fu’ action sequences and an intriguing criminal underworld with its own complex structure and hidden wrinkles. This time around, the film might lack the ruthless storytelling economy of its predecessor, but it remains a compelling few hours of pistol-powered action.
Shortly after the brutal conclusion of the first film, John Wick (Reeves) is visited by crime boss Santino (Riccardo Scamarcio). Due to a past deal, Santino has a ‘marker’ that gives him the right to demand Wick carry out an assassination on his behalf. Wick initially refuses, but is reminded by hotel owner Winston (Ian McShane) that refusal to comply would violate the strict underworld rules. In order to ensure that he carries out his orders without disappearing, Santino sends his enforcer Ares (Ruby Rose) and bodyguard Cassian (Common) to keep an eye on Wick.
The first John Wick was a triumph of cinematic economy. It was a lean, mean movie that didn’t waste a single frame of its running time in constructing an elegant patchwork of balletic action sequences, with a fantastical underworld twist. Director Chad Stahelski‘s sequel – his buddy David Leitch is now making Deadpool 2 – is considerably lengthier and flabbier, but no less packed with stunning explosions of action. The film is at its best when Stahelski just points his camera at Reeves and allows the star to showcase his terrifying proficiency with a firearm.
Action is what the John Wick movies do best and Chapter 2 raises the already high bar set by its predecessor. Many of the scenes of rapid-fire gunplay are allowed to unfold in single takes and they sustain the Hong Kong-inflected action tone that make this franchise feel unique among Hollywood genre fare. One particular brawl, between Wick and Common as assassin Cassian, is a thumping cavalcade of bullets and fists that culminates in an immensely satisfying punchline. That punchline is a prime example of the odd, playful sense of humour that comes to characterise the film. Every explosion of brutality feels utterly unique, particularly when the situation calls for Wick to wield his signature pencil, with visceral consequences.
Reeves is tremendous in the lead role, with his strange lack of charisma oddly fitting for the taciturn killing machine. Ian McShane continues to bring delicious sophistication to Continental owner Winston and Lance Reddick gets an expanded role as hotel concierge Charon. John Wick: Chapter 2 benefits from a deeper dive into the mythology of the Continental and its surrounding underworld, but that also complicates the narrative slightly and leaves the film feeling like a middle installment as groundwork is laid for the inevitable threequel. It doesn’t help that this film doesn’t have a villain to match Michael Nyqvist in the first film. Ruby Rose, especially, is done a real disservice by the writing of her threadbare character.
There’s a real issue at play with the fact that John Wick: Chapter 2 always has one eye on its sequel. The first film was a lean, self-contained thriller, whereas this casts the net wide and allows its ball of expository string to unfurl seemingly at random. It takes at least half an hour to actually get moving and constantly feels as if it’s a single misjudgement away from falling apart like the dismembered bodies of Wick’s victims. Thankfully, the action is thrilling enough to hold it all together and the superhuman aura of the new, highly-trained Keanu Reeves is a welcome jewel in its crown.
Pop or Poop?
Keanu Reeves is back and badass in John Wick: Chapter 2 which, in its best moments, is a visually breath-taking and utterly brutal action movie that combines the best elements of world cinema with the gloss of Hollywood. Stahelski directs the action with real flair, but unfortunately he gets bogged down in the stodgier waters of the John Wick universe.
The exposition is boggy and supporting characters seem to be shifting around for a sequel, leaving this feeling like something of a middle episode. When the bullets fly, though, they really leave an impact.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
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