‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ is Here to Kick Ass. Taking Names is Optional.
Sometimes you just want to see someone else pay a horrible price. In which case, this is your movie.
There’s an episode of Rick and Morty – stay with me here – in which mad scientist Rick Sanchez and his granddaughter Summer decide in the end that there are times in life when you just want to see someone else pay a horrible price. It’s from the episode, “Something Ricked This Way Comes,” in which the two come to pass with The Devil (voiced by Alfred Molina) and end the story by beating the shit out of Nazis and animal abusers in a montage set to DMX’s “X Gon Give It To Ya.” The moral of the story is that while doing what is right might be right, sometimes indiscriminate violence can be cathartic, especially when you’re faced with pure manifestations of evil.
It’s entirely possible that you might feel this in your everyday life here in 2017. Regardless of what you believe, who you support, or what you do with your life, it’s been a tumultuous year in the Western Hemisphere. There is rage and anxiety all around us, regardless of your political leanings. It’s something we carry with us at all times – a new human normal. So we have to grab on to the opportunities to escape from this new normal. This weekend, we get a big opportunity to escape from our own world by visiting that of John Wick, the bullet-flinging, ass-kicking modern super-weapon played by Keanu Reeves. It’s a world several degrees removed from our own where we can watch hordes of nameless bad guys get what X has got to give to ’em. In this case, X is the 52-year old action star of our time, Mr. Reeves.
If there’s another recent franchise that’s analogous to what the filmmakers behind John Wick and its sequel John Wick: Chapter 2 have created, it’s undoubtedly The Raid. This parallel speaks both as compliment and criticism. Writer Derek Kolstad and director Chad Stahelski operate with the same simplicity here that Gareth Evans did with his two Indonesian thrillers: keep it very simple and pick up right where things left off in the first movie. We meet John Wick, aka The Boogeyman, as he’s finishing his journey from the first film. In a scene narrated with the extreme gravitas of Peter Stormare star-power, we are Wickness to the offing of many fools as he reclaims his beloved car. Yet, just as it appears John will finally know peace, the world of assassin hotels and secret societies expands to draw him back in one more time.
This is another win for Team Wick, as they use one of the strongest elements of the first film – the subtle world-building around this society of killers – and push further, expanding the mythos. There’s not only a chain of hotels on the grounds of which killers cannot murder each other, there’s also an Illuminati-like “High Table” of global players pulling the strings. And a network of homeless New Yorkers who are paid spies and killers. No, really. This all seems like it might be fodder to get us from one gun-fu sequence to the next, but it’s an underratedly clever element of the Wick franchise. Someone put a lot of thought into this wide world of bloodsport and for that they should be commended.
The result is a film that comes together as a stylish, frenetic extension of its predecessor. Keanu Reeves is still delivering stiff dialogue, but he’s also shooting everyone in sight. The world is expanding, but it has not lost any of its charms – such as the inclusion of supporting turns from Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Lance Reddick, and Django himself, Franco Nero.
The only stumble, as was the case with The Raid 2 as well, is that Chapter 2 gets a little long in the tooth. The expansion of its world comes with a bit of bloat. But even though it runs a tad long at 122 minutes, we are ultimately rewarded with everything that allowed action junkies to fall in love with the first movie, and then some. It culminates with a final action sequence, in which Wick squares off with the film’s Italian big bad (played deviously cheesy by Riccardo Scamarcio) and his chief henchmen, played by international heartbreaker Ruby Rose, that is a classically tuned violin of epic close quarters action. Set in a museum filled with Italian sculptures and an Enter the Dragon-esque hall of mirrors, the sequence is undoubtedly the most lethal, slick action thing we’re going to see on screen this year. I know it’s only February, but I’m confident in that assessment. To Ruby Rose’s credit, she is wickedly menacing without saying a word in the movie. Which, given her line readings on Orange is the New Black, might be the secret formula to making her a movie star. See also: Rhonda Rousey not saying much, but kicking ass in Furious 7. Some badasses really do say it best when they say nothing at all.
None of this would work, of course, without Keanu Reeves and a team of innovative, obsessive stunt coordinators. But credit is owed to the two filmmakers. Kolstad and Stahelski have once again proven that they have the perfect temperament to make quality action cinema. It’s a mix of smart choreography, expansive world-building, and just enough humor (not all of which is overt) that make the John Wick franchise a gem. They understand, as many of the great actioneers of the 1980s did, that you don’t have to say a whole lot with your movie. You simply need to do a lot of what people want to see and do it well. Because if you’re message is, “here’s a relentlessly violent, super-fun time at the movies,” sometimes that’s all people need.