John Wick: Chapter 2 Director: Chad Stahelski
Screenwriter: Derek Kolstad
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Common, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Franco Nero, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Peter Stormare, Peter Serafinowicz, Lance Reddick
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Rated R | 122 Minutes
Release Date: February 10, 2017
“Somebody please get this man a gun!”
With 2014’s John Wick, co-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch delivered a stylish neo-noir action thriller with hyper-kinetic fight choreography and sophisticated “gun fu” a-la John Woo’s The Killer. In the follow-up, John Wick: Chapter 2, Stahelski and returning screenwriter Derek Kolstad attempt to delve deeper into Wick’s internal struggle and expand the franchise’s mythology.
After unleashing hell on the Russian mobsters who killed his dog, retired hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves)’s plans to resume a quiet civilian life are cut short when Italian gangster Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) shows up on his doorstep with a gold “marker” compelling him to repay past favors.
Ordered by Winston (Ian McShane, Deadwood), kingpin of secret assassin society The Continental, to honor the organization’s ancient code, Wick reluctantly accepts the assignment to take out Santino’s sister, Gianna (Claudia Gerini), Camorra crime boss and member of the High Table, where the heads of the world’s organized crime syndicates have a seat.
Arriving in Rome, Wick checks in at Il Continentale headquarters and prepares to square off against some of the world’s deadliest killers, including Cassian (Common of Smokin’ Aces and Wanted) and Ares (Ruby Rose, xXx: Return of Xander Cage). Back in New York, Santino double-crosses Wick, burning his home to the ground and putting a price on his head. Seeking help from the mysterious Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), Wick once again seeks vengeance against those who have wronged him in the hope that he’ll one day be able to live a normal life.
Not only has Stahelski expanded the mythology, but the film’s visuals as well, utilizing top-notch production design (Kevin Kavanaugh of The Dark Knight Rises, Night Crawler) and cinematography (Dan Laustsen, Crimson Peak) to bring John Wick’s world forward, using anamorphic lenses that push the limits of how much mayhem can fill the frame. John Wick: Chapter 2 looks phenomenal, no doubt about it, but the story feels less like a continuation of the original film and more like a parody of it.
For example, when Santino puts a $7 million contract out for Wick’s death, a roster of oddly specific killers start comin’ out of the woodwork. There’s the street musician whose violin turns into a gun, the massive sumo wrestler in a business suit, and the silent but deadly subway station vagabond; characters that feel at home in Deadpool, Kick-Ass, or the Street Fighter series, but not so much here. Suddenly, everyone in New York City is a highly trained hitman working undercover as an outlandish caricature.
Adding to the cartoonish nature of Chapter 2 is the lack of investment in Wick’s journey. In the first film, Reeves generates enormous empathy as a broken man who has lost everything — not only was I convinced of his need for vengeance, I cheered for it. This one is just a series of uninspired killings, like watching a Call of Duty headshot compilation video on YouTube for two hours. It doesn’t help that Wick is actually bulletproof here, equipped with a high-tech business suit that turns him into an invincible superhero. There aren’t any stakes – not once did I feel that Wick’s life was in danger.
Still, John Wick: Chapter 2 has a few things going for it. Fishburne and Common are excellent additions to the cast. One of the few fight sequences in the film that really works involves Common’s Cassian and Wick going toe-to-toe — it’s a personal confrontation that carries actual weight, which the rest of the film is sorely lacking. It’s fun to see Fishburne and Reeves together on screen again, a callback to The Matrix Trilogy, which cemented the Point Break star’s reputation as an ass-kicker. Likewise, it’s nice to see the legendary Franco Nero (Django, Enter the Ninja) make a cameo as the manager of Il Continentale. It’s easy to see how a future spin-off could examine the early lives of Nero and McShane’s characters – they feel very much cut from the same cloth.
Ultimately, John Wick: Chapter 2 looks gorgeous and sounds great, but fails to elicit a response other than, “Wow, he really shot that guy in the head good!” It’s far too self-aware to be taken seriously — what felt like an inventive throwback to ’70s revenge flicks is now a formulaic rehash without an emotional center. With Chapter 3 on the way, it seems that John Wick is destined to become Lionsgate’s Fast and the Furious, a franchise that grows increasingly absurd (and less engaging) with each entry. To borrow a line from Stahelski and Leitch’s 2014 film: