I periodically mention in these reviews of how tired I am of modern filmmaking and the products they output. A good majority of the films that will release this year are sequels or are a part of an established franchise, and it’s honestly becoming tiresome to just keep seeing series just going on seemingly perpetually. That being said, if future entries into the John Wick series are just as enjoyable as the first and this second film I will be discussing, then I will be willing to start an exceptions list.
For those who are unfamiliar with the plot of John Wick, let me give you the backstory of John Wick’s character before the first film’s events. John Wick was an extremely successful assassin who managed to do something unheard of in his occupation: retire. John married a woman named Helen and lived happily with her until death from an illness. After her death, John finds that Helen made arrangements for a puppy to be delivered to him to help him cope with her death.
However, he’s not allowed to grieve for long. After refusing to sell his classic Mustang, another link to his deceased wife, a pack of Russian gang members break into John’s house and knock him unconscious. They then commit two fatal mistakes. They kill his dog and steal his car. This establishes the tragic trend in John’s life, as he’s never really able to grieve because people keep stealing or destroying his only possessions that relate to his wife. Chapter 2 elevates the severity of screwing with John’s mourning by firebombing his house.
You see, for John to have been able to retire, he made a promise in blood with a ‘marker.’ He owes the holder of the marker a favor, and John’s life is forfeit if he refuses; but he refuses anyway. To convince him, the holder of the marker, Santino D’Antonio, bombards John’s home with incendiary grenades. To honor the blood oath John must eliminate Santino’s sister in Rome. It is upon this point the world of John Wick expands beyond New York.
The world of John Wick is one that permeates with sophistication. There is a tangible feel of class you get from watching that is difficult for me to explain. If I were to try, I would say that I think the movie has stylistic decisions that they put an incredible amount of thought into. The first is in order for any character to survive in this world, you need to be an expert in your field. Expertise from everyone involved, including assassins and shop keepers, gives the world of John Wick credibility and doesn’t lose you to a loss of disbelief suspension. It’s honestly refreshing to be given minor characters that aren’t bumbling idiots and evoke humor with their mannerisms rather than idiocy.
Another facet of this film’s universe is visual style. In Chapter 2, we gain more insight into what goes on behind the closed doors in John’s world. While the advantages of modern technology have infiltrated their customs, the high criminal infrastructure still uses old technology in a way that makes sense in a paranoid way. Old fashioned corded telephones in the hotel Continental, file folders and old computers with command line interfaces. What’s old is secure, and what’s new is able to be infiltrated.
That’s not to say that all new technology is shunned. This film introduces us to the concept of thin layered ballistics armor that is impenetrable by small arms fire. This comes into play in the numerous firefights this film has, and is the third area of the film that detail and thought was put into.
Probably the more critical piece of John Wick movies is the combat scenes. Many things in combat scenes can knock people out of their immersion, and Chapter 2 doesn’t trip over the main ones that plague action movies. John reloads weapons frequently and accurately, limps from wounds and gets exhausted from physical altercations. This is the area where the films shines brighter than its other areas and just blinds you with surreally fun combat. Hell, the sounds designers need a raise for the audio is top notch, even for the subtle details.
The small details really are the sweet icing of this cake of a movie. The back room accounts division with old tech switchboards, computers, and file folders that are (more) secure from the law. An underground crime lord sending what looked to be phone cards with pigeons, using old techniques to communicate with technology. John patting down his ballistics armor, casually, to knock off the rounds that were stuck to it. All of these bits have one thing in common.
These scenes were never given obtrusive camera focus to show you something happened. This movie does not fall into the cardinal sin of assuming the viewer is a complete idiot, explaining only the things that need to be explained. It lets the viewer figure out certain elements, which is dangerous if done poorly. Chapter 2 skirts this danger by making these details non-essential, but fun when you think about them. When John patted down his suit armor, you could hear the metal rounds clink as they hit the floor. You couldn’t see the bullets as John was far from the camera in very dark catacombs. I actually smiled when I heard them fall.
This is accentuated with top acting talent that feels right at home in playing in every variety of classy roles. Santino’s actor, Riccardo Scamarcio plays a great menacing, but cocky kind of gentleman class. The manager of the Continental hotel in New York, Winston (Ian McShane), is played very well in the way of being a sophisticated gentleman with a rule-book. Ares (Ruby Rose) is perhaps my new favorite character, as Santino’s mute enforcer and bodyguard. Her facial expressions really accent her character to have both a menacing and cocky personality that even reflects her demeanor in her signing.
Overall, John Wick Chapter 2 was a very enjoyable experience, if you don’t mind a triple digit body count on the main character’s behalf. Keanu Reeves can really play the role of John Wick, even throwing in his own firearm sports experience. This movie is a noir style film where nothing seems to get better for a character, only worse; but regardless of that bleakness, this movie is just plain fun.
It feels odd to say that about a major Hollywood film release, but I can’t help myself. There’s a long scene taking place in an art display that makes heavy use of mirrors. It was filled with points of either tension while the players get into place or energetic excitement when the fight begins. One standout moment is when Keanu is using a mirror as cover, with a gunman shooting at another mirror’s reflection. John then gauges the gunman’s position via the reflection and then shoots him through the same mirror John was using for cover. I nearly stood in awe and excitement. Go see this movie.
★★★★★ “Exceptional. A prime experience that should not be missed.”