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Review – John Wick: Chapter 2 – “An unapologetic modern twist on an 80’s action film”

Slam! Jonathan Wick is back, blazing a punch-ass trail through an international underworld, unencumbered by both enemies and too much logic.

The ‘reluctant hit man forced out of retirement’ is not a new theme, but given a straight enough face it’s still an action-film dependable topic. This movie picks up neatly from the first outing, with Wick still trying to shake his old life of pledges and oaths, and maintain his mournful dead-wife worshipping retirement, this time with a new, unnamed, adult dog.

After a walloping battle set-piece start to recover the first film’s Ford Mustang, Wick is visited by an old contact, Santino D’Antonio, played with lashings of viperine oil by Riccardo Scamarcio. D’Antonio originally got Wick out of the assassin game, but now wants him back in for a debt-settling job. When Wick refuses, his house is destroyed as a consequence, by rockets of course, and the eponymous hero is forced back into the saddle.

From this point we enter the old criminal network world of rules, as laid out in the first film. Whereas “John Wick” played out at times like an ultra-violent Audi commercial, here the phases and set-pieces are a sequential set of marvels. Wick heads first to Rome, and there is a superb Bond-esque set up period where he uses his underworld coin credits to buy all the kit he’s going to need. During this sequence, there are a number of absorbing cameos, not least of all comedian Peter Serafinowicz as a smooth, bass-voiced “weaponry sommelier”. Elsewhere in the film, Ian McShane and John Leguizamo return, as does The Wire’s Lance Reddick as the sinister but benign receptionist of The Cosmopolitan Hotel. It is a particular joy to see a hollering Laurence Fishburne reunited with Keanu post-Matrix, and he makes the best of his screen time as a growling, ebullient New York crime boss. In the array of scrapping foes, rapper and producer Common stands out as a glowering anti-Wick henchman, just as lethal and almost as cool. One particular fight he is involved in, tumbling down steps in Rome, is breathtaking. Ruby Rose also grabs the screen as a mute but lethal killer.

The world design in the first John Wick was mirror-like – optimally shiny, but just as deep. In this film there are some lovely old-school touches (wood panelling, old typewriters, a bank of secretaries sending messages via vacuum tubes) to offset the glitz, and some remarkable tattoos on display hinting at further subcultural depths.

Once the body count starts to rise, we are propelled back into familiar territory. Stunt veteran Chad Stahelski, who directed the first film, also helms here and brings pitch-perfect assurance to all of the action sequences. Keanu Reeves’ training in judo and jujitsu is deployed in most of the fights, with a grappling, tumbling style hallmarking the film. Even the gun play is brought into this close-quarters mode, with several breathtaking sequences of Wick vs many foes choreographed immaculately. Most of these play out against lavish, high-class settings, and the gilded opulence serves as a great contrast to the primal death battles raging below.

In the quieter moments, Reeves displays his signature oaken delivery style, but returning writer Derek Kolstad sensibly never asks too much regarding emotional range. The bullets are the stars here. That said, Reeves’ face has a natural resting, haunted look that is entirely appropriate to the story, and even in his fifties, his physicality is never in doubt.

As the film travels onwards, through increasingly and gloriously absurd fight sequences, the true extent of the underworld network is revealed. Towards the end the omniscient potency of this apparatus is almost “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” in its eeriness.

The rising tension at the end of the film is very well executed, and clearly Chapter 3 is in the pipes, along with a TV series, also written by Kolstad. With a growing fan base, and plenty of Ronin-journeyman story scope left to explore, this Wick’s not going to snuff out anytime soon. It’s an unapologetic modern twist on an 80’s action film and there’s much to love here.

This review by Paul Draper.

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