Podcast Producer Thom Hetherington reviews the long-awaited sequel to the 2014 breakout franchise-starter.
So the old maxim goes: if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But do make it bigger, better, ballsier, and infinitely more bombastically violent. The boogeyman is definitely back and he really really isn’t pulling any punches.
John Wick: Chapter 2 picks up where the first film ends – as the titular assassin (Keanu Reeves) singlehandedly reclaims his stolen car from a small army of Russian mobsters. This closes off his streak of vengeance and leaves John free to live a peaceful life with his adorable-if-unnamed dog. But as Ian McShane’s Winston prophetically foretells John in the first film, “You dip so much as a pinky back into this pond, you may well find something reaches out, and drags you back into its depths.” And lo, it isn’t long until Riccardo Scamarcio’s Santino D’Antonio arrives to plunge John headfirst back into the murky waters with a favour that cannot be refused.
After the success of the first film, it would be easy for the team behind John Wick to rest on their laurels and stick everything in for a quick rinse and repeat. Instead they expand the mythos and iconography of the rich world they had previously established. The action in John Wick is so exceptional, it would be enough for the director Chad Stahelski to coast on mere choreography alone. There is enough visceral momentum in the first ten minutes of Chapter 2 to leave most action movies trailing in the dirt. The action is inventive, graceful, and brutally balletic. Yet Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad take time to explore their underground world of assassins and high councils, establishing a lore that’s fun and fascinating in equal measure, and the viewer is drawn into this dark and delectable underworld.
It helps, of course, that this is a world populated with larger than life characters ably given life by an incredibly game cast. Reeves, once again, showcases anger and the grim resignation of a man determined to convince himself that he really is only working that one last job. The supporting cast squeeze all the zest they can out of their roles. Ian McShane and Lance Reddick both shine in their respective roles as hotel manager and concierge. It seems that nobody could be having more fun than McShane is until Laurence Fishburne pops up; clearly having a ball as character best summed up as Dicken’s Fagin in a silken dressing gown. Roby Rose also stands out as a deadly mute assassin intent on wiping John Wick from the face of the earth. Even then I’m neglecting the stony-faced gravitas of Common and the allure and power of Claudia Gerini’s mobster boss. The cast does an incredible job of lending depth, individuality and ice cold coolness to thumbnail sketches. All the cast make an impact, with enough quirks and personality to ensure their characters are remembered. Even if that impact comes from the fact that they’re being played by Peter Stormare.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is a film that manages to get everything right about sequels, expanding and improving on the first film whilst remaining true to what made it unique in the first place. The film is perhaps best summed up in a scene during its latter half, in which John races through a museum filled with priceless works of art – slaughtering those who stand in his way. It is a scene accompanied by a reworking of the Presto from Vivaldi’s Summer by Tyler Bates and Joel. J Richard that can only be described as outrageous. John Wick: Chapter 2 is a film that, like those museum pieces, takes the breath away. It combines beautiful gut wrenching violence and fabulously bastardised Vivaldi with marble sculpture and artistic flair. It’s big, smart, slick fun that isn’t afraid to indulge in a little extravagance. After all, this is a film about a guy who killed three men in a bar with a pencil. “A fucking pencil.”
John Wick: Chapter 2 is out in UK cinemas tomorrow, February 17. See the trailer below: