Movie Review : John Wick - Chapter 2 (2017)
Chad Stahelski's movie John Wick should've never become "a thing." There are thousand action movies out there that, on paper, are exactly the same: reclusive badass is wronged by organized crime and righteously murders his way back to reclusiveness. What made John Wick special was that his old employer (the Russian mob) had no leverage whatsoever on him. The stakes are literally nonexistent. Wick's wife dies of an unrelated disease right at the beginning. He gloriously murders an entire chapter of the Russian mafia because they killed his puppy dog for no reason. And you don't fuck with a grieving man's dog. Oh, no sir. Especially not if it was given to him by his late wife in order to speed his grieving process.
I had no doubt that given the success of the original John Wick, it would eventually spawn sequels. Could lightning strike twice, though? Would John Wick : Chapter 2 recreate the magic? My expectations weren't very high, but I was wrong. Shit's bananas again, but in a whole other way...
So, John Wick : Chapter 2 picks up shortly after the events of the first film. Our adorably genocidal protagonist (the immortal Keanu Reeves) successfully retrieves his stolen property from a Russian mob-owned garage and drives back home for his opportunity to FINALLY grieve his dead wife when someone rings the freakin' doorbell. That annoying intruder is Santino D'Antonio (Ricardo Scamarcio), head of the local Italian mob who comes to collect on a "marker" that predates the event of the first movie. What is a marker, you'll ask? It isn't clear. It's not clear why he owes one to Santino either. But who gives a shit, right? John promised a hit to this guy, so he wouldn't interfere in his mythical "impossible task" he was given by the Russians before he could peacefully retire with his wife and now he has to make good on it. You definitely won't understand a thing if you haven't seen the first.
LET THE KILLINGS BEGIN!
John Wick : Chapter 2 found a pretty clever way of not turning into a one-trick pony: everything that happens runs contrary to the original. The movie begins with Wick retrieving his car instead of having it stolen. He pours concrete over the guns he once dramatically dug up. He loses material possessions (his home gets bombed), but no one dies to prompt him into action. And perhaps the most interesting difference with John Wick is that he's technically in the wrong, here. He's the one refusing to deliver on a promise. John Wick : Chapter 2 is still a long series of gory, tactical gun fu scenes with little space for character development, but screenwriter Derek Kolstad does a magnificent job at alluding to Wick's motivations. He could've disappeared into the night when his house was bombed, but he decided to make good on his debt because he's a stand up guy and he really wants to move on. Organized crime has become as much of a boring cliché to him as it is to us.
Are the John Wick movies glamorizing death and violence, though? Is it noxious porn for budding mass murderers? The easy answer to this question is OBVIOUSLY, but the reality of it is more nuanced. The combat portrayed in John Wick and John Wick : Chapter 2 don't fetishize the act. There's an absurd level of tactical realism to the non-realistic shooting situation Wick finds himself in. If it were to happen in real life, it would happen like this, more or less. It portrays death in an unceremonious way IN GENERAL, too. There is this oddly romantic and dignified wrist cutting scene that is impossible to take seriously if you've seen Netflix's teenage drama series 13 Reasons Why, but otherwise people tend to go out in an uncomfortable whimper. It's bizarre. There is no escaping the chic, slick underworld badassery, but Chad Stahelski and Derek Kolstad have their own way of making it seem reckless, self-important and unappealing. John Wick : Chapter 2 ultimately doesn't escape the label of violence porn, but it's aware of this problem and at least takes responsibility for what it's showing.
I did not expect John Wick : Chapter 2 to be this good. It's not as good as John Wick because the novelty factor is gone, but it brilliantly fulfills the expectations of delivering "same but different" gun fu and upping the ante all across the board. The action scenes are longer, crazier and wider in scope. It's taking John Wick through fun, weird underground locales and exploring the boundaries of what it can do. It obviously sets up a third movie, but I don't have any qualms with that. Stahelski and Kolstad proved with John Wick : Chapter 2 that they are in command of their narrative. They understand they need to surprise their audience and subvert their expectations in order to create a successful series. They're in for the art and not just for the money. John Wick : Chapter 2 is a strong sequel, guys. It's not perfect by any means, but the original wasn't either and it's just good to see big budget movies done properly. If you've enjoyed John Wick, don't miss the sequel. It delivers.