OP-ROB RATING: STARTER
Directed by Chad Stahelski, “John Wick: Chapter 2” is a sequel to the 2014 film “John Wick”. In the first film Keanu Reeves stars as John Wick, an emotionless ex-assassin who goes on a revenge-fueled killing spree after a group of punk Russian gangsters steal his car and murder his dog. Wick’s retirement is disturbed again in this second chapter. A man named Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) shows up at Wick’s house and presents him with an assignment. One that Wick took a blood oath to fulfill. When Wick staunchly refuses to undertake the assignment, D’Antonio responds by demolishing his house with a grenade launcher. Wick survives the attack and makes his way into New York City where he gets in touch with his network of assassins called “The Continental”. Winston (Ian McShane), the rule obsessed leader of the NYC branch of The Continental, tells Wick that he must fulfill D’Antonio’s assignment. Bound by the rules, Wick reluctantly reaches out to D’Antonio who tells him to assassinate his sister Gianna D’Antonio (Claudia Gerini) so that he can claim her seat at “the High Table”, some kind of epic crime-lord syndicate. The recurring joke in the “John Wick” series is that he just wants to retire, but is yanked out of peace again and again either to complete a mission or get vengeance. This time he is tasked with both.
The assassination and its repercussions unfold throughout the rest of the film, and frankly, the plot is not all that spectacular. Perhaps the best compliment that can be given to “John Wick: Chapter 2”, is that as a film it is incredibly self-aware. Unlike many action-thrillers that flop because of a convoluted plot and over-seriousness, “John Wick: Chapter 2” embraces its flaws and turns them into positives. For example, Keanu Reeves is well known as a comically bad actor. Instead of juking around this fact, the film turns John Wick’s emotionless attitude into comedy at several points. In one scene Wick fights another assassin on the NYC metro. Wick manages to stick a knife into the man's chest and promptly eases him into a seat saying, "the blade is in your aorta. You pull it out and you will bleed and you will die. Consider this a professional courtesy." The scene and dialogue are ridiculous, but never pretend not to be.
Another area in which “John Wick: Chapter 2” bests the flaws of the genre is with the action scenes. There is a kind of logic in them that would seem obvious, but that many action-thrillers miss. One simple observation is that John Wick actually shoots people. If Wick has bullets, he will use them as a first option. This separates him from the lot of action-stars that seemingly forget they have guns half the time. The action scenes flow better as a result of Wick’s efficiency as he rarely gets bogged down fighting people hand-to-hand.
Finally, “John Wick: Chapter 2” utilizes a chorus of character-actors to keep the film fresh and entertaining when Wick isn’t blasting his way through guys trying to kill him. Ian McShane’s signature snideness is perfect in Winston, who seems to be somewhat entertained by Wick’s misfortunes. Former rapper Common plays Cassian, one of the main assassins Wick has to fight. To top them all is “The Bowery King”, a lower Manhattan-dwelling underground crime boss played by Laurence Fishburne. All of these characters lend to the “World of Wick” in which assassins lurk around every corner and epic firefights can occur anywhere from the streets of Times Square in New York City to the Capitoline Hill in Rome.
Ultimately, the only things separating the “John Wick” franchise from being a truly great action-thriller brand is a better soundtrack and a slightly thicker plot. For now, the series stands as an entertaining one-and-done kind of event; it is not the kind of film you revisit over and over. All things considered, criticizing “John Wick: Chapter 2” for not being artistic enough would be missing the point. As Wick says in one scene when he asks the Bowery King for help, “Do you want a war? Or do you just want to give me a gun?” So I ask moviegoers, do you want more depth from an action-thriller starring Keanu Reeves? Or do you just want to let him do what he does best? I know what my answer is.