JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 starts with Mr. Wick doing what he does best. That would be mowing his way through a horde of adversaries with a cool precision and a lethal effect. While he is doing this, we are reminded, or introduced to, if we haven’t see the first film, just who exactly Mr. Wick is by a gravelly crime boss with tattooed fingers currently engaged in caressing a very fat cigar. Between bouts of oral gratification, he shares tales of how Mr. Wick once killed three people with a pencil, and opines that most of the stories told about him, though lurid and fantastic, are understated. With that nifty bit of exposition, we are set to enjoy this sequel that revisits all those elements that were so very right in the first film, and that this sequel amps up into another violent flight of fancy replete with exquisitely choreographed mayhem and a suitably black sense of humor. For an added dash of mordant whimsy, it’s all set in a well-ordered assassin subculture that exists undetected in plain sight. Undetected save for when all heck breaks loose during the ci-mentioned mayhem.
Keanu Reeves returns as the eponymous elite ex-assassin who tried retirement when he fell in love, but went back to his old ways after the puppy left him by his beloved late wife was killed. After tying up the last loose end by reclaiming the car stolen by the puppy-killer, Wick once again attempts retirement with a new dog. Alas, it is not to be. He has an outstanding marker, and when it’s called in by its insistent owner, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), Wick has no choice but to return to his old profession. And the timing couldn’t be worse. He’s just buried all his weapons under a slab of concrete in his basement.
This film starts with a bang and rarely lets up. Think classic martial arts flick with guns. Lots of guns. The scenes that allow us to catch our collective breath offer their own piquant delights, from a splendidly correct sommelier (Peter Serafinowicz) who offers premium wines and armaments, both with a heady bouquet, to the professional courtesies offered from one assassin to another. This is hyper-reality to be enjoyed as fantasy leading up to a wondrous homage to THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI as bullets fly in a maze of mirrors installation inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. From the catacombs of Rome to the subways of New York, Wick takes on all comers with a wondrous economy of movement and a preternatural focus. It’s why he can subdue a passel of hitmen with only his wits and a pencil (again), and also why he can perform a delicate yet dangerous pas-de-deux with his main antagonist (Common) on a crowded subway without giving away the game to the other passengers until most of them have exited. Reeves, sotto-voice and laconic throughout does his most daring feat of derring-do by maintaining the lightest of ironies in his performance, and not being afraid to give in to sentiment when appropriate. He also looks dynamite in those carefully tailored black-on-black ensembles. Even when both he and they get mussed. Very mussed.
The action is punctuated by engaging, if ruthless supporting players. We are re-introduced to the civilized elegance of the assassin-friendly Continental Hotel, where the Manager (Ian McShane) keeps things orderly, as in no blood spilled and no reneging on those markers, with the imperturbable Charon (Lance Reddick) at the front desk, and meet his counterpart (Frano Nero) in Rome, where Wick is dispatched on his mission by the metrosexually resplendent, morally bankrupt D’Antonio. We also meet the pigeon-loving Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), who runs an operation independent of the assassins, and who owes a debt, of sorts, to Wick; the intense mute assassin (Ruby Rose) playing bodyguard to D’Antonio with a ferocious relish; and D’Antonio’s sparkly sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini) whose sense of destiny is as operatic as her eye makeup.
Points for dressing the mute assassin in sensible boots instead of the usual spike heels foisted upon sultry women in action films.
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER TWO is a slick piece of filmmaking that boasts what may just be the best use of a fountain in a shootout ever. Tapping into the zeitgeist of paranoia (everyone outside the sanctuary of The Continental wants Mr. Wick dead), and offering a piquant and disquieting look at a self-contradictory amoral subculture that mirrors the mainstream, it dares to have a soupçon of substance amid all that flash and dazzle.