“Why don’t you just give me a gun?” Caught up in one of the most vulnerable situations in his entire shoot’em up career, our hero, the legendary killing machine John Wick asks a guy for help. In case you are wondering why didn’t he just ask for a pencil instead of a gun (oh yeah, a pencil), you need to know that the tail is too long to overcome this time. Picking up five days after the denouement of the first film, Jonathan Wick (Keanu Reeves) tracks the mob that has his car. Reminiscent of the 80s and 90s potboilers where we were served with larger-than-life introductions of the leads, John Wick Chapter 2 kickstarts in an explosive fashion.
After a thrilling car chase set in the eye-popping led lit streets, we’re given a quick recap of all the hand-to-hand combats relished in the first chapter as Reeves single-handedly takes down twenty something guys.
This 5-minute long relentless fight sequence proves two things right away. First, great action movies still exist. Second, visual effects can never overhaul the unprecedented, cinematic joy of stunt choreography. The bone-crunching action presented here is delicious as a dark chocolate bar. Every kick and punch thrown by the Canadian actor gets the adrenaline high, amidst spilt blood and broken bones. And the best thing is that this propulsive scene is just a teaser to what comes ahead.
John Wick, as we know, is seeking an exit door from the brooding crime world which surprisingly runs on a strong code of conduct. After retrieving his beloved car (regardless of what shape it’s in), he deems retirement. Believing he is free from all boundaries, he buries his weapons and gadgets and begins to live a peaceful life with his new dog. Until the Italian crime lord Santino (played by Riccardo Scamarcio), who Wick owes a huge debt, pays him a visit.
As a means of exit in compliance with the established rules, Wick is bound to honor Santino’s marker. But he refuses. And as a reply to his retraction of honoring the marker, Santino blows up his house. Reluctant and infuriated, John meets Winston, the manager of the Continental Hotel in New York. Realizing it’s necessary to fulfill the contract to rightfully retire from the job, Wick sees Santino and agrees to honor his agreement. Santino assigns him the task of assassinating her sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini) in Rome, so he can take over the ‘High Table.’
A bit hesitant and helpless, Wick leaves for Rome only to realize later that he was tricked by Santino as a $7 million bounty is up on his name by him. Now, not only must he go underground and protect himself but also put an end to Santino’s evil plans.
The first half of the film is a pure build up for the second. After the kinetic opening scene, the plot unfolds at a languid pace. The narrative stays velvety smooth, identical to the first installment. Till John meets Gianna in Rome, there is no action. I’m not complaining considering it all works in the film’s favor. The level of tension swiftly rises as we see the man on his concluding mission button up and check his new toys (read: guns) to play with, later in the party.
The scale of the film is expectedly grander with cinematographer Dan Laustsen’s phenomenal work behind the camera. He lends it an exquisitely artful touch in spite of it being a commercial entertainer. From New York City to Rome, everything is captured to perfection. The set-pieces dazzle as well. Be it the sizzling chase set beneath the catacombs in Rome or the inventive combat scene in New York Subway, everything looks awesome. Even the climax set in an art gallery is brilliant. (The blood stains on the wall heighten the artistic appeal).
However, when the film threatens to become a parody of itself by comprising some very unrealistic and often hilarious stunt scenes, it is Keanu Reeves’s believable performance which keeps everything grounded and in perfect balance. Reeves at 52 is still as impressive as he was a decade ago playing Neo in the infamous Matrix trilogy. His physical dexterity and dedication towards playing the character is spectacular. The way he aims, shoots, reloads, runs and dodges with guns is amazing. If not anything else, John Wick Chapter 2‘s biggest achievement is giving us a memorable lead character.
The rest of the cast comprises several similar faces from the first chapter, including Ian McShane as Winston and Lance Riddick as Sharon who ably play their parts. The newbies (villains) Riccardo Scamarcio and Ruby Rose are dynamic in their roles. Rose, who plays the mute bodyguard of Santino, shares a very bawdy chemistry with Reeves. The bold-lettered subtitles only add to the fun.
However, Common (the rapper), born Lonnie Lynn, has the best supporting role in the film. There is a hilarious moment where after a deadly fight, they are compelled to share a drink together. Their tailored dialogues, especially Reeves’, are spoken with so much intensity like they’re in a verbal warfare. “Consider this a professional courtesy.” This is how they greet each other after squeezing a knife or landing a punch. Their relationship easily puts Bond-Henchman relation to shame.
Well, as a single unit the film bashes a lot of lowbrow, superficial action movies. Like George Miller’s masterful Mad Max Fury Road, it is a rollercoaster ride that never runs out of gas.
While momentarily proving that the middle entry in a trilogy is always the best, John Wick Chapter 2 promises an even more stupendous chapter to come in the future. And with Laurence Fishburne on board, the badassery is sure to get a notch higher.
Don’t miss it. It is the best movie sequel since Terminator 2: Judgment Day that fires on all action cylinders.