Director: Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane
Watch John Wick Chapter 2 online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
How do you follow a film like John Wick? With Buster Keaton. That’s the moral of John Wick 2, one that’s made clear from the opening shot of a Manhattan building, with one of the silent film star’s movies projected on to the side of it. Why? That’s not a question that’s relevant in John Wick’s universe. The only questions that matter have answers that end in gun shots and punches to the face.
Wick (Reeves), of course, is the unstoppable assassin who tried to get out of the criminal underworld, only for them to pull him back in. After getting revenge for the death of his dog in the first film, it was a running joke among fans what possible domestic damage could be wrought upon him to make him seek vengeance again in the sequel. But writer Derek Kolstad and director Chad Stahelski are in on the joke. When Wick declares his motivation early on, it’s both ridiculous and ridiculously simple – a burst of logic and absurdity that has the abrupt force of everything else the man does. Immediately, this world of eye-for-an-eye rules makes sense once more.
The world was John Wick’s secret weapon. The first film dazzled with its hefty set pieces and tangible violence, but it also crafted a universe of killers for hire, all of whom meet up in Continental hotels around the world, a safe haven for getting your suit fitted, your weapons purchased and having a slap-up meal.
It gave rise to the delicious pun that they can conduct “no business on Continental ground”, made even more delicious by the fact that it was delivered by Ian McShane, playing the New York hotel’s manager. But it also gives Kolstad the chance to expand on the mythology, introducing old friends (Common as rival hitman Cassian is impressively intimidating) and new debts (Riccardo Scamarcio as Santino D’Antonio, who calls in a favour from John, is suitably slimy).
That framework gives structure to what could otherwise be a rambling plot, forcing the narrative to remain streamlined, while still upping the action and collateral damage. Stahelski, the former stunt double for Keanu and experienced stunt coordinator, is as hands-on as ever in his direction, with every kick and thwack liable to cause minor bruising for anyone sitting too close to the screen. Crimson Peak DoP Dan Laustsen lights everything with neon blues and vibrant reds, climaxing in a dazzling halls of mirror sequence in a museum that plays out like Enter the Dragon remade by Nicolas Winding Refn. But while Wick’s bullet-play is often compared to ballet, the franchise’s ability to redefine modern action cinema in a way last achieved by Jason Bourne lies in that opening shot: this isn’t ballet. It’s Buster Keaton.
The editing in the opening car chase, cutting from loud car engines to the silent look of horror on a bad guy whom you know is about to get deaded, is full of the wit and careful choreography of silent film. The supporting ensemble is made up of people who can make you giggle with their facial expressions alone, from Lance Reddick’s hotel receptionist to Peter Serafinowicz as an barman/armourer. The sequel’s best character, tellingly, is a mute henchwoman played by Orange Is the New Black’s Ruby Rose, who communicates every threat in sign language. Add in Laurence Fishburne’s hilarious cameo as a kingpin with a thing for pigeons, and you have a movie that isn’t afraid to play for laughs as much as bad-ass kills. The physicality of every stunt jangles with dark, painful humour, as we see Wick and his opponent tumble down stairs in Rome’s deserted streets. or crash through hotel windows before being ordered to freeze. It’s in those moments that you appreciate just how perfect Keanu Reeves is for the role, delivering John’s actions as well as his words with a skilled deadpan. “Can a man like you know peace?” he’s asked. The answer may be no, but he certainly knows his comedy.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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