|Look at dat aesthetic|
I now see I was wrong.
If 'John Wick' was 'The Raid'; this would be 'The Raid 2' - eschewing the original's simple premise and emotional heft for a more complex, far reaching, and visually exciting spectacle. Indeed, although we open on a car chase and brutal fight scene - these serve only to wrap up the final loose ends of the first film. After this, Wick seems to genuinely believe he's free from the shackles of his previous life. That is, until Santino (Riccardo Scamarcio) enters his life. Armed with a grenade launcher, and a sacred bargain from many years earlier, he ushers Wick into a world of political intrigue - an assassination attempt to unseat key members of the hitman inner-circle (more on that later).
|More awesome than awesome|
But, of course, that's not all - after the victim does the deed for him, Santino puts out an exorbitant hit on the titular character - leading him with nowhere to hide as we see the full extent of the syndicate of assassins. This time, Wick is fighting for his life - rather than simply trying to decimate a gangster empire (hah, 'simply').
There's far more copious violence here than in what we've seen before. Wick decimates almost twice the number of bad guys this time around, with an improved arsenal - and for a much longer portion of the run-time. There's a shootout at an avant-garde Roman ruins concert; through the streets and subways of New York; and in an elaborate modern-art mirror maze in a gallery. It's almost fetishistically brutal - with head explosions comically exaggerated; and a visualization of that pencil stabbing that we've all been waiting for for so long (no, it does not disappoint). The final shootout - if I'm not mistaken - must have taken a good 10-15 minutes; and the sprawling concert/club/catacombs fight in Rome must be a good 20/25, all things considered. So, yeah, it's a film filled with senseless action - but senseless action in the 'gun-fu hell yeah' type of way rather than the bloodless shaky-cam kind of way... You'll have to give up your morals for around two hours, however, as almost all of the enjoyment, humor, and progression in the film comes from feeling a sense of enjoyment about mostly-innocent hordes of bodyguards being dismembered in all kinds of horrific ways. Just try not to think about the fact that they probably have wives and kids, eh...
You'll also have to really enjoy that type of film, or at least not be opposed to it. If 'The Raid', or 'Hardcore Henry' catapulted you into the bored zone, then 'John Wick: Chapter 2' is probably not the film for you. Relentless fight scenes that stretch over the 15 minute mark are, after all, not everyone's cup of tea.
|Morpheus? Is that you?|
It's also pretty funny in many cases. The fight scenes themselves are loaded with sight-gags. For instance, in one instance, Wick and another character come to the resolution of a fight just as they crash through the windows of the Continental - and are forced to walk amiably to the bar and have a drink together (remember: rule number one is no business on Continental grounds). This makes for surreal and hilarious viewing. In another, a man has his dick cut off on a pristine white train platform as an automated voice reads to 'report all suspicious activity to a member of staff'. And, indeed, by the time Lawrence Fishbourne's faking-homeless assassin cult shows up, we're in full on camp territory ('Your descent into hell begins here'). And Franco Nero plays the owner of the Italian Continental. Franco. Goddamn. Nero. The most stereo-typically Italian (albeit completely awesome) actor in existence. But it's all in the spirit of a totally unbelievable action film - filled with stereotypical Russian mobsters, Italian mafia, and a shootout in a fucking art gallery. Take it as it is please, and don't go expecting a side of social reasoning with your big fat juicy fucking burger.
|In da cluuub...|
There are some little flaws here and there. Keanu Reeves is a bad-ass, a nice guy, and very funny in interviews - but he can't act. This isn't so much of a problem when he's slicing and dicing his way through New York, but when he has to say lines (such as 'I'll kill them, I'll kill them all') it comes off as a little comedic due to the seeming inability to portray emotion. Another mistake, and a far bigger one at that, is Ruby Rose's Ares - a deaf mute bodyguard. Although the scenes of subtitled sign language are pretty cool, Rose does an awful job of trying to remain convincing - putting on a series of exaggeratedly camp and over-serious facial expressions for practically the whole movie, which comes off as incredibly stupid. She's a decent fighter, but in the world of John Wick, we know she's gonna die - and there's no two ways about it. Therefore, a character needs to be something more than capable of swinging a punch. Also - going out on a limb here - wouldn't Ares be an awful fighter anyways; not being able to hear and all? The soundtrack, for me, was not really up to scratch. In the scenes where there was music, it was usually inaudible due to the fighting; the Italian concert song was an interesting choice, but had no real melody to get behind; and there's a lack of identity to the soundscape save for the theme tune. At times it seems like it wants to be 'Bond' - and at others 'Kingsman'. Please make your mind up.
In fact, as you can see by now, there's a direct formula to how 'John Wick: Chapter 2' works its magic perfectly. It takes a sleeper hit, and distills it to the very materials that made it so special - and giving us a double shot of that spirit rather than diluting it with mixer. As a result, we get more of the neon lighting; more of the eye-popping violence; and a deeper understanding of a complex mythology. Hell, this is one meaningful stare away from a Refn movie - or perhaps late Korine. Please don't take that last comment as a negative...
|Common as a fellow hitman...|
And, no, the dog doesn't die. You can sleep tonight.
|'John Wick: Chapter 2' gets 4 stars!|