February 13, 2017 by bck1402
warning: slight spoilers (which you’ll get if you saw the film, otherwise it might make you watch out for such plot points).
John Wick blasted into the cinemas back in 2014 bringing along a very old school vibe to its execution of action cinema. Eschewing the typical rapid edits that had become pervasive in action movies, their wider shots and longer takes created a sense of authenticity in its action. Star Keanu Reeves was front and centre in the action scenes proving he could still pull of the fights of gun or fist variety even as he was pushing 50. Now, Reeves returns as the iconic hitman in John Wick: Chapter 2, a far more brutal and punishing endeavour.
Aside from the action, what was far more fascinating about the first movie was the world it created; a clandestine underworld of hitmen and their code of operation. We got a small glimpse of the world via their safe haven hotel, The Continental and its proprietor, Winston (Ian McShane), who constantly reminds John of the rules he has to abide. That world is very much expanded upon in Chapter 2, and while we had a hint of a clean-up service before, we have so much more this time; the numerous services provided in conjunction with The Continental and it’s ruling body, High Table. Their use of terminology makes this society almost a religious order, but may also hint to their origins.
John Wick: Chapter 2 deals with consequences, some of which are from Wick’s own actions in the first movie and some are results of his own action here. It also raises questions about how the system works given the job Wick has to carry out. While the first half gives us a deeper look into the world of these assassins and how large their world suddenly is (The Continental we know is but one of many around the world!), the second half highlights how dangerous that world really is as John goes from hunter to hunted. It may also cause a viewer to have a sudden bout of paranoia upon leaving the cinema.
By expanding the world, we also get a different sense of John’s place in it. While the Russians (carried over from the first film for the opening act) were in fear of Wick, that is not the case here where others are concerned. Sure, the respect is still there, but it’s also clear that the assassins would turn on each other on a dime when a contract comes up (evidenced in the first movie too), and Wick is just one of many who’re at the top of their own game. “Professional Courtesy” comes up a couple of times throughout the film.
Director Chad Stahelski, handling the reins alone this time without co-director David Leitch, manages to keep the pace and action choreography fluid and organic, maintaining its unique style while pushing it a little bit further. He showcases the professionalism of these assassins and their methods be it Wick, Cassian (Common) or the silent Ares (Ruby Rose). The stars do their best in terms of the dramatic scenes with some heavyweights providing gravitas (McShane, Reddick, Nero, Fishburne), but it’s the action that holds court with Reeves’ iron-willed hitman taking point.
While my hopes for a deeper dip into that shadow world were fulfilled, it also raises more questions and curiosities about the scope and functions; something I hope will be addressed in the next chapter. The disparity between High Table and their underlings does raise a lot of questions, particularly where the nature of John’s ‘obligation’ was concerned. If Winston knew about the marker and the job, wouldn’t High Table have been aware as well and taken steps? Or is there some kind of separation between “church and state” that no one can interfere with the nature of the order/job, and fulfilling the marker takes supreme precedence? Or John couldn’t report to High Table without coming across as a snitch? Questions, questions… will they be addressed in the next one?
Still, the action is solid and still a cut above the norm, relishing in its old-school stunt aesthetics, and avoiding the flagrant use of CGI so common in other films these days. The story works to drive the characters forward, particularly the lead character, without repeating or relying on the first movie too much. Just don’t expect much in way of depth, it’s just not that kind of story. Chapter 2 is a logical continuation from what went before and we can only hope it doesn’t take too long for Chapter 3 to roll around.
Stars Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Common, Ruby Rose, Claudia Gerini with Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, John Leguizamo, Laurence Fishburne and Franco Nero
Directed by Chad Stahelski