John Wick: Chapter 2 and all the images you see in this review are owned by Summit Entertainment
Directed by Chad Stahelski
WOO!!! JOHN WICK IS BACK!! Now I wasn’t as over the moon as some people were with that first movie (), but I am never the less EXTREMELY excited to see what Keanu Reeves has up his sleeve in the sequel! True, sequels to unexpected hits are almost universally terrible (*cough* Highlander 2, The Hangover 2, Taken 2 *cough*), but there’s not a whole lot of ways to screw up a formula like this; especially when what made it work the first time around was well choreographed and expertly shot action scenes; two things that Keanu Reeves and the returning director seem to prize above all else. Can this manage to be as exceptional as the man himself and ACTUALLY be a good sequel, or has the air gone out of this series the same way the Matrix did when we got ITS sequels? Let’s find out!!
The movie picks up RIGHT where the last one left off, namely with John Wick (Keanu Reeves) finishing off what remains of the Russian mob (his injuries have healed rather nicely considering how close he was to dying at the end of the last film) and getting his car back. Of course, because of how much noise he made doing so, he gets a visit from a former associate who wants him to do a favor despite his insistence that he’s FINALLY going to retire. This turns out to be a VERY bad move as the associate Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) then blows up his fucking house because of this. Doesn’t kill the dog though! No, he makes to the end! Anyway, apparently Santino has a Marker with John which supposedly makes all of this make sense (spoiler alert: it doesn’t) as a Marker is essentially a blood oath where one party owes the other a one-time request that they MUST do or else… I don’t know, they die? I mean, good luck finding someone to kill John Wick! Hell, if that was even an option, why don’t you send THAT person to do the job for you!? Well no one was asking for my opinion when they were writing this, so John takes the job, executes his target, and THAT’S when things go to hell as the target’s bodyguard Cassian (Common) was an old friend but now a SWORN MORTAL ENEMY, and Santino betrays John and tries to have him killed. I totally didn’t see that coming, especially when HIS bodyguard Ares is played by Ruby Rose and was giving John dirty looks throughout the first act (angry dirty; not sexy dirty). So now he’s got Cassian on his ass, Santino trying to kill him, and oh yeah A SHIT TON OF OTHER ASSASSINS as Santino has ALSO put a hit on him just for good measure. Will John be able to kill his way to Santino and finally get his retirement once and for all? Well… PROBABLY considering how good he is at head shots, but does Santino plan to keep John JUST out of arm’s reach? Who can John trust now that there’s a huge bounty on his head and hit men are coming out the wood work for his very valuable head? How many suits does this guy go through on a daily basis!?
Holy SHIT, this movie is fucking awesome! John Wick is all BANG-BANG-BANG! And then the bad guys try to go STAB-STAB-STAB! But then John is all HELL NO! And then he stabs EVERYONE!! THE END!! Okay, so that wasn’t ACTUALLY the end, but you get my point! The movie is one of the most technically proficient action films we’ve gotten in some time (at least for ones that don’t rely on CG set pieces) and it’s a sheer delight to watch Keanu Reeves slip back into this role which basically resuscitated his career after fading into obscurity for a stretch there. It’s well paced, there isn’t a weak link to be had in the action, and it embraces the stylish excess of it all with brazen abandon and deft skill. HOWEVER! This movie is not as good as the first one for one very important reason, and unfortunately it’s one that plagues a lot of sequels. They wrote themselves into a corner with the ending of the first one, so the justification for the events in this movie happening AT ALL rely on idiotic MacGuffins, characters acting INCREDIBLY stupid, and John being robbed of all agency just to keep things moving along and to carry us from action scene to action scene. As a showcase for well executed action, this movie is one of the best and frankly about as good as we can expect from a Hollywood film (it’s certainly better than that rumored Raid remake could possibly hope to be), but the cracks that were there in the first one have only gotten worse which leads to a lot more frustratingly unanswered questions than we should be getting from a movie about an immortal badass shooting a bajillion people in the head. THIS SHOULDN’T BE THAT COMPLICATED!!
Everything wrong with this movie centers around John’s Marker with Santino D’Antonio, and this one aspect is SO bad as to fracture the entire story. NUMBER ONE! Why did John make this unbreakable bond with Santino? It’s a fair question! The offhanded explanation is that he HAD to so that Santino will help him “get out” of the business. WRONG!! The first movie made it PRETTY clear that John got out because he did one last mission for the Russian mob that was SUPPOSED to be impossible but he did it anyway. They mentioned it more than once in the last movie, and they didn’t mention Markers until now so the justification right off the bat feels tacked on and not a natural extension of the last film. Everything we know about John Wick doesn’t match up with the terrible decision to swear a blood oath to this sniveling douche bag, and I can’t imagine said bag of douche being able to provide a service that would be even CLOSE to worthy of such a deal. Even the rules for Markers don’t make any sense considering there are literally no rules as to what someone can ask of another. I know that these are HARD DUDES AND DUDETTES WHO LIVE ON THE EDGE OF LIFE AND DEATH, but considering how careful The Continental (the organization providing support for the assassins) is with some of its OTHER rules, you’d think that having something so overwhelming powerful (and so strictly enforced) would have been nerfed at SOME point! You see? It’s a cascading effect. The questionably necessary MacGuffin to get John Wick to ACTUALLY do something other than chill at home with his new dog needs to somehow fit in the world they’ve set up, so it ends up raising questions about how THAT is supposed to work, and then you start asking questions about how supposedly smart people are allowing ANY of this to take place, and by that point I just felt like I was in a world full of pretentious idiots with no sense of scope or understanding. I know that I said John isn’t allowed to make any choices in this movie, but really it’s like NO ONE is allowed to NOT make the worst decisions at any given moment. For fuck’s sake! Ian McShane who plays the guy in charge of The Continental tells one guy he’s a fucking idiot for something that he does, and then by the end of the movie McShane has done the EXACT SAME THING!!
So why is all of that necessary? Well, it’s like I said. John can’t be allowed to make a decision in here, so the world contorts itself around the film’s narrative so that he has only one path to follow. Why is that the case though? Why can’t they let John have any agency here? It goes back to the first movie and what was SORT of a flaw there that is only made worse in this. John Wick is another one of the IMMORTAL HEROES. The champion that rises up and instill everlasting fear into their enemies. The person we want to root for because someone did them wrong and has the guts and the brains to take justice into their own hands and set things right when the rest of the world fails to do so. This isn’t bad characterization in its own right as long as you have the right story to go with it, and the first John Wick managed to be just as much about his enemies facing their inevitable demise as much as it was about him hunting down those that killed his dog. There was mythic weight in the way that he was talked about previously, and his very personal quest for vengeance was enough to keep him and the audience motivated. That said; it’s ALSO made clear that he does not want to be doing this, and is only on this path because of his own selfish desires for revenge. He could have lived in peace as he claims to want to do if he had let it go. It wouldn’t have been easy, but he could have left it be and spent the rest of his life without going down this dark road again. Leave the past buried instead of literally digging it back us as he does in the first film. This one? Yeah, none of that is in this. I mean, to a CERTAIN extent it’s better than giving him ANOTHER vengeance quest, but by so thoroughly establishing his desire to retire in the last movie, there’s not much they can use BESIDES anger and vengeance to give him INTERNAL motivation, so they rely entirely on EXTERNAL ones.
He HAS to take this job or else Santino can kill him at any time. After that, he HAS to kill someone else because THEY swear vengeance on HIM for what he HAS to do to complete his blood oath, and the new challenger won’t stop hunting him down until he’s dead. Then he HAS to find a way to kill Santino because of the bounty on his head and there are APPARENTLY a lot of dumb mother fuckers out there who know who John Wick is yet STILL want to take a swing at him (yes I know that was also in the first movie, but that was just ONE dumb ass instead like twenty in this one). He’s constantly between a rock and a hard place at all times, and yet I can pick apart EVERY step of this convoluted process which undercuts the effectiveness of ANY of these roadblocks. Why is John worried about fulfilling his blood oath when it would have been quicker to just kill Santino in the first place? Why do they make a point that the blood oath gives Santino the right to kill John when AFTER the oath is fulfilled, he puts out a contract on him anyway? If Santino ALWAYS has THE RIGHT (as it were) to kill John, then what the fuck is the point of the blood oath!? What if Santino told John to kill someone in the Continental Hotel which would be breaking the most important rule!? WHAT THEN, IAN MCSHANE? DO YOU HAVE AN ANSWER FOR THAT ONE!?
Now the sad thing is that there WAS a way to give him proper motivation IF the movie was willing to take a risk on John’s character, but because he’s a man of myth that the audience HAS to like, they couldn’t do it. If John had been seduced or tempted back into the life rather than being FORCED there, it would have made a lot more sense but would have possibly given him some unlikable qualities. I don’t know how audiences would have reacted if it turns out he LIKED being a killer and took one final job for the heck of it (that went totally pear shaped), but it would have at least given him a role to play in his own story! Oh sure, the movie offhandedly tosses a line out towards the end about how he must LOVE killing if he’s done so much of it in this movie, but that shit doesn’t fly when the film spends so much time and effort ensuring HIS moral high ground at the expense of believable and coherent characters that SHOULD be driving the plot forward for their own motivations but are instead doing so to make sure we get to all the action set pieces in a timely manner.
It’s just so damn frustrating that a better movie could have easily been made if they would just take a few risks here and there and maybe spent a bit more time setting up character motivations that aren’t simply EVILTM. Sure, they make for good cannon fodder and this movie is in no short supply of that, but there’s clearly aspirations here for something greater that just doesn’t come together because the film can’t bear to put even the slightest of smudges on its hero or to come up with a story that would serve that purpose while ALSO not making everything around him so monumentally dumb. I still recommend this movie by the way if that wasn’t clear as my own issues with the story aren’t going to be a problem for everyone, and there’s simply no denying the expertly shot and impeccably choreographed fight scenes that really do carry this movie all the way through its two hour run time. Go check it out in a theater as the action is good enough that you’d want to see it on the big screen, but be aware that shit gets REAL dumb, and not in the obviously self-aware fun way. More in the WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON way, though I guess A BUNCH OF PEOPLE ARE GETTING SHOT will be a good enough answer for most.