John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 2/19/17
Director: Chad Stahelski
Music: Tyler Bates
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Common, Laurence Fishburne, cameos by Heidi Moneymaker, Angel Pai

Taking place shortly after the events in "John Wick" (2014), John (Keanu Reeves) completes his revenge against Viggo's family by reclaiming his stolen Mustang. Unfortunately, his quiet and peaceful retirement is interrupted when an old acquaintance calls on him to repay a blood debt, and John is reluctantly pressed back into working. Not surprisingly, there are complications that lead to a huge bounty on Wick's head, with the fate of New York hanging in the balance and a large pile of dead bodies to clean up.

It's wonderful to return to the fascinating underworld of The Continental, with its rich lore, luxurious traditions, strict code of conduct, opulent stylings, and colorful characters. It's also quite shocking to see Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne sharing the screen again, which stirs up memories of "The Matrix" (1999). It's a beautifully filmed ballet of blood, bullets, and brutality, but it lacks the heavy emotional anchor of the first film. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as the film provides an adequately dislikable villain who gives John ample motivation for his outrageously violent actions. The action and stunt work are excellent, and it's utterly delightful to watch an action scene comprised of cuts that are more than a second long. I was ecstatic, actually. Director Chad Stahelski knows how to shoot action, and makes sure you get to see as much of it as possible. You rarely, if ever, see this outside of Hong Kong cinema, and you don't even see it there anymore. Keanu Reeves and the various stunt players give wonderfully hard hitting performances, and it's nice to see a variety of different fighting styles being used. The film also delivers on the punchline of the first film, with astonishingly savage results.

The film looks and sounds great, and has a wonderfully anachronistic aesthetic. The entire infrastructure of The Continental is built around an army of female office assistants in classic business attire, operating analog switchboards, rotary phones, manual typewriters, and pneumatic tubes. It's fantastic. It's also worth noting that apart from Wick, there's not a single smart phone in the film. Every assassin uses a small profile mobile phone with just enough screen real estate to display simple text messages. I really appreciated that, as I hate seeing smart phones in movies. I see enough of that every day. And since they're so common place in modern society, it's nice to see that they're not considered appropriate or efficient for elite assassins to use. Another standout in the film is a mute assassin named Ares, played by the immensely charming Ruby Rose. While I didn't like the whole mute angle (female assassins often tend to have some sort of physical handicap for some reason), she gives an excellent and strong willed performance, and I eagerly look forward to her continuing to hone her action persona.

The film ends on a depressingly dour note with a chilling sense of doom and dread, but it's consistent with the rules of the world it has built. Keanu Reeves has expressed interest in making a third "John Wick" film if this one performs well enough, but it's difficult to see where the story could go unless his slate is wiped clean and he receives a full pardon from The Continental. Regardless, I won't turn down an invitation to visit that splendid world again.