When three years ago a totally unpredictable little movie came out with a boring name, a naff set up and a faltering star no one expected much. But stunt coordinator turned director Chad Stahelski — under guidance from David Leitch — turned Derek Kolstad’s screenplay into 2014’s best kept secret.
Retired hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is brought out of retirement when Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) son of crime boss Viggo Tarasov steals his car — a symbol of his past life — and kills his puppy — which acts as a symbol of his married life with Helen (Bridget Moynahan). That was the first film’s simple set up and this follow up doesn’t over complicate things much more.
In Chapter 2, Wick finishes off his hunt for his car, which leads to the united assassins of the world fearing him again. Into his life returns Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), whom Wick owes a blood debt, and all this leads to Wick being the most wanted hit in the world.
It’s partway through the story of this superior sequel that something dawns on you: the thought put into the criminal underworld of John Wick is just as thought out as J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world. The details are all there, from the global hotel syndicate ‘The Continental’, where no business should take place, to the currency of gold coins, to the gentleman like agreements between everyone involved.
The writing is better this time around too, much more confident and playing up the heroic bloodshed genre. It’s basically a western, played out in the modern world, and the film relishes this, with everyone chewing the words before spitting them out.
Reeves owns the film, easily making this the most assured and confident he has ever been on screen. Like Johnny Utah and Neo got put in a blender, this proves that Reeves is at his best when he’s selling the popcorn, and it’s not just corn that’s popped in this movie, it’s caps in so many asses. He’s the stoic lead, one that you believe makes people tremble at his name, and a role he should continue to play for as long as he’s able to.
The film doesn’t slack on the support either. Returning from the first film are Ian McShane as US Continental owner Winstone — grinning like a shark, statue-like Lance Reddick as concierge Charon, and John Lenguizamo as chop-shop owner and friend to Wick Aurelio. But the film adds so much more to the lore set up in the first film, from the Rome-based Continental run by Franco Nero’s Julius, or the various thugs played by the likes of Common or Ruby Rose.
But the most fun comes in the form of a quartet of roles. The first is Peter Stomare’s mob boss Abram Tarasov who chomps a cigar like he’s Hannibal Smith. Laurence Fishburne as The Bowery King who does his best not to laugh as he hams it up like a joy. While main villain this time is played by Riccardo Scamarcio, who is the most slime-ball bastard going, so much more hateable than Alfie Allen’s baddie.
Despite the wealth of other supporting actors, the best new character in the film is Claudia Gerini as Gianna D’Antonio, soon to become heir to the thrown of the Roman crime syndicate. Her coronation is what sets Wick’s plot in motion, and Gerini plays the role like she’s Elizabeth Taylor (at times she’s a dead ringer for her). This sort of royal family type and empire of crime/hit people, is so brilliant and thought out, that really I could watch this all day.
Including the old fashioned telephone operators that all have sleeve tattoos and put through the contract kills, all of this comes from a much more confident Stahleski, who no longer needs the guidance of Leitch. This time around the film is so much more painterly, with action scenes that could be mistaken for dances, and the line between music and sound effects often becoming blurred.
What becomes very clear is that this film is about what cinema loves. Many films out during award season are about what cinema needs, but this is pure comfort food: a cacophony of gun shots, grunts, thumping drums and guitars and clipping. There is a fetish with people in suits clipping things to themselves that seems to get the film off, and in fairness, cinema does clipping and dressing better than all other mediums.
The door is left open for John Wick: Chapter 3, and despite an overly saturated world of franchises this is one that could go on and on, with different people coming into it’s world. And it’s nice that the first film came out and became such a cult hit from nothing. This is a film for those who love the beauty of action cinema, the dance of violence and the old style of filmmaking.
This is how action should be done; gone are the slo mo bullet-time rip offs, gone are the awful shaky cam multi-cuts and here it is Gene Kelly with weapons. For anyone who loved the old school John Woo movies, or the Hard Boiled era of heroic bloodshed, this is the movie to watch. What a time to be an action movie fan when there’s movie series like John Wick and The Raid doing fight movies the right way.