JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 * * * 1 / 2
Starring Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Common, Lance Reddick and Laurence Fishburne. Screenplay by Derek Kolstad. Directed by Chad Stahelski.
The first thing you see in John Wick: Chapter 2 is an old Buster Keaton movie – it might be Sherlock Jr. but don’t quote me on that because I haven’t done my homework – projected on the side of a brick building in New York City while an off-screen car/motorcycle chase revs-up and provides an amusingly synced surround-soundtrack, shortly before the chase’s participants come crashing into frame.
One of the last things you see in John Wick: Chapter 2 is a brilliantly staged, LED-enhanced hall of mirrors shoot-em-up sequence modeled after Orson Welles’ The Lady From Shanghai, and these are the kind of grace notes that make these films so ridiculously enjoyable for us pointy-heads who watch too many movies.
John Wick: Chapter 2 amplifies the first film’s outlandish ballet of violence, color and movement at an exceptional level of craft. Look at it like a dance movie and you’ll find choreography that puts recent musicals to shame. La La Land can suck it.
Keanu Reeves is back as “the boogeyman himself,” also-known-as “death’s own emissary” and a dude who really, seriously this time is trying to retire. Alas, no sooner does John Wick cement over the secret arsenal-vault in his basement than a marker foolishly granted years ago to a goonish camorra bro drags him back into the assassin-for-hire game, with predictably disastrous results. (Leave it to this jokingly self-aware sequel to have the plot hinge upon the star’s annoyed contractual obligation.)
And so soon every hitman in New York City is aiming to cash in on a seven-million-dollar bounty on John Wick’s head, which in this film’s playfully surreal universe means that all the homeless folks and subway buskers and everyone you meet on the street are all secret assassins operating on flip-phone messages and even well-dressed businessman strolling down Fifth Avenue are trying to kill Keanu.
That’s pretty much it for plot. The majority is Reeves dodging bullets, firing endless rounds and narrowly escaping certain death with a glorious athleticism in one can-you-top-this sequence after another. I’ve been saying ever since Speed that Keanu was born in the wrong decade and would’ve been one of the all-time great silent film stars — he just *moves* better than anybody else in movies. (Cast him as the villain opposite Cruise in the next Mission: Impossible and I swear the universe will explode.)
John Wick: Chapter 2 expands the goofy world created in the first, so now Ian McShane’s hilarious assassins-only luxury hotel has an Italian counterpart run by Franco Nero. Our hero also wears a bulletproof bespoke suit, and Reeves’ old mentor Laurence Fishburne even shows up to chew the hell out of the scenery while flying pigeons carrying SIM cards full of classified information.
It’s probably too much of a good thing, and at a smidge over two hours you’re wondering if maybe the movie could have moved along a bit quicker had Keanu just shot two or three less people in the face during any given scene.
But really, given the sorry, shakycam state of action cinema it’s amazing how director Chad Stahelski frames the characters from head to toe like dancers in an old Hollywood musical, reminding us that light, movement and kinetic energy are what cinema was originally supposed to be about.