John Wick Journeys into Hell for Chapter 2

by Tim English on February 10, 2017

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Rock Fist Way Up]

Normally, you wouldn’t think a movie like John Wick needed a sequel. But ready or not, Keanu Reeves is back and thanks to some elegantly choreographed action sequences, John Wick: Chapter 2 manages to one-up the original.

Plot? What plot. Okay, there’s kind of a plot-ish. Actually what’s going on is a little more important, some real actual world building. Picking up about a week or so after the first flick, JW2 finds our Mr. Wick struggling to adjust to retirement. When he’s dragged back into the life he has been trying to escape, a nasty blood oath from his past leads to the discovery of a plot to assassinate him.

It’s easy to dismiss John Wick: Chapter 2 as another mindless action movie that is more obsessed with violent kills than telling an interesting story or delivering complex, relatable characters. But there’s so much more going on below the surface of the extravagant shoot-outs, fights and violent rampages. There’s no dog this time. Well, Wick’s best friend is still around, but less integral to the plot this time around.

You have to look close. But there is an ambiguity about the moral decisions and repercussions an assassin like John takes on in order to survive in his world. Think of this as John Wick’s personal journey into hell to re-claim his soul. As he embarks on what could be his final mission of revenge, Wick trudges deep into the underground of this criminal world where literally anyone could be a master assassin.

This is a world where rules matter and even the Boogeyman (Wick’s well-earned nickname) is bound by them, if he wants to maintain protection of the Continental — a secret network of assassins, touched on briefly in the first movie and explored even further this time around developing a rich and shockingly intriguing mythology.

This is also a world where action comes first and acting comes second. Take a scene between Reeves and Common. These two dudes are getting ready to throw down. Revenge is a two way street, after all. Shit is about to go down, and these guys are sitting there reciting lines like they’re literally being fed to them off-camera. It’s a scene that feels so unrehearsed it feels….real? But, this movie does deliver what we’ve all been waiting for since the first Matrix movie, a proper reunion between The One and Laurence Fishburne.

Oh, but the action. You can tell director Chad Stahelski (returning) has given a more comfortable budget to work with. The sets and locations are bigger and the action — holy hell. There’s something poetic about watching the 52 year-old Matrix star storm through a building like a fucking super hero. But this is not super hero. He’s just a dude. He bleeds. He hurts. He moves like he’s in pain after he gets his ass handed to him. But, he still gets up and fucks everyone up.

Now, that all being said, calling it a mindless action movie isn’t far off, either. Every action scene, poetry and acrobatics aside, If a smug Netflix copywriter decided to pen the description for this flick as “Two hours of Keanu Reeves shooting dudes in the head”, it wouldn’t be…incorrect. Seriously, I’d love to know the body count. It has to be in the hundreds.

John Wick: Chapter 2 does something remarkable in an age of mind-numbing action flicks. It allows you to enjoy the imagery without having to decipher what is going on. It relies on its action to move the story forward rather than using the story to simply set up bloody head shot kills.

Writer. Ad Man. Jedi. Sometimes people ask for my opinion on movies. Sometimes they agree. Member of the Kansas City Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Creator and voice of the Reel Hooligans podcast. Find us on iTunes. Board member for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City and founder of the Terror on the Plains Horror Festival.

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