“As I live and breathe — it’s John Wick, the man, the myth, the legend,” says Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne). “I thought you retired.” “I’m working on it,” says Wick (Keanu Reeves), “and you’re going to help me.” “Why would I do that? No one in this cruel world, Mr. Wick, will help you.” The “cruel world” Fishburne refers to is a secret society of professional killers, to which he and Wick belong, governed by its peculiar conventions, norms and mores. From this world, Wick wants to retire but he “owes a marker,” as they say, to crime boss Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) that must be honored before Wick can leave. That’s the film’s setup.
Does Wick honor D’Antonio’s marker? What are the consequences if he doesn’t? Are the consequences worse if he does? Answers in “John Wick: Chapter 2,” 122 minutes of virtually non-stop, highly stylized violence.
As professional assassin John Wick, Keanu Reeves kicks, stabs, punches, shoots, runs over and dispatches in multiple other ways — including a pencil in the ear — 141 enemies (according to USAToday). By my count, it’s 12 in the first eight minutes before the main titles. Reeves is amazingly good in his martial arts moves, but his is a one-note performance of a one-dimensional character.
Others in the cast include Riccardo Scamarcio as Wick’s chief antagonist, Santino D’Antonio. “You have a beautiful home, John,” he says, politely, before blowing it up. Claudia Gerini is Gianna, Santino’s glamorous and duplicitous sister. Common and Ruby Rose are Cassian and Ares, chief henchpersons for Gianna and Santino. Ian McShane plays Wick’s friend, Winston, CEO of posh Continental Hotel where Wick and a bad guy shatter their way into the lobby through a decorative glass door. “Gentlemen! Gentlemen!” protests Winston. “There will be no business conducted on the Continental grounds!”
“John Wick: Chapter 2” is close to what Hitchcock called “pure cinema” — story-telling with pictures. Director Chad Stahelski (a former stuntman in “The Matrix” films) and writer Derek Kolstad keep non-action, down-time at a minimum — just one flashback and a few sequences in which no one is killed. Dialog is reduced to simple, declarative sentences — “I’m not that guy anymore,” says Wick. “You’re always that guy,” says Santino — and, at times, to single words — “Working?” “You?” “Yeah.” “Sorry.” (Then they shoot each other.) Characters have no motivations or feelings. Only Wick has aspirations – to retire. He doesn’t, of course, because there’s to be “John Wick: Chapter 3.”
Rated R for strong violence throughout, language and nudity, “John Wick: Chapter 2” runs 122 minutes. I didn’t get it, but maybe you will.
Some say, “John Wick: Chapter 2,”
Its violence is all in fun;
It wasn’t fun for me, but then,
I never saw “Wick: Chapter 1.”