Burdened with superhuman focus, agility and the ability to kill busloads of criminal cohorts, former assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is back after doling out revenge for the death of his dog Daisy and the theft of his vintage Mustang. Only a few days after the previous film – a satisfying action epic that continues the recent trend of hearty, fulfilling action movies like Mad Max: Fury Road and The Raid – John is visited by an Italian crime lord Santino D’Antonio in the home he made with his late wife. Contractually obliged by form of a “blood oath”, John is told he must work for D’Antonio despite his retirement. John refuses and the mobster leaves his home in ruins.
John then- in fact it doesn’t matter. John Wick: Chapter 2 is visceral bloodbath trading characters for expertly choreographed gunshots to the head, heart, groin and kneecaps. Replete with impactful car chases, stoic non-dialogue, multiple moments of guns being reloaded with impeccable brevity and even some pencil action; the film doesn’t stop for breath. All that really needs to be communicated to the viewer is a $7 million contract for John’s assassination has been put out and he must now face the entire criminal underworld looking to cash-in.
Wisely directed so that the action isn’t obfuscated by shaky camera work, haphazard blocking or jarringly quick editing unless necessary; John Wick 2 feels delectably entertaining. Moments like the aforementioned pencil kill or silenced-pistol duel in the middle of an unsuspecting crowd are sure to be recounted humorously by action movie fans everywhere. It’s a shame then that the action becomes rote by the halfway point. Unlike Fury Road’s continued build-up of unique set pieces –scenarios designed so that their characters can perfectly showcase that thing they do so well – John Wick never really supplies any memorable situations. We see John fight and shoot through a series of mostly indistinguishable rooms for about two hours. For a movie so caught up in trying to be a stylish genre picture, it’s surprisingly flat behind the well-formed stunt work.
This wouldn’t be a huge problem if the characters were actual characters but what little dialogue there is, comes across as boring, and sometimes unfunny when it is trying to be. Keanu Reeves manages to bring some likability to his non-character, an unwilling assassin, a precisely designed robot with developing feelings who desperately wants its’ plug pulled. The rest of the cast manages no on-screen presence. What little dialogue there is usually amounts to a sly acknowledgement of a fellow assassin, … “John”… “Cassian” before we are dutifully led into the next series of palpable bullet storms. And normally that is fine for a picture like this but I felt unusually numb to the action after just 60 minutes and found myself yearning for more context and character.
The (anti) heroes of action movies nowadays tend to be infallible, having more in common with the characters played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 80s, rather than the more relatable, mortal beings portrayed by Bruce Willis or Sigourney Weaver in the same era. I don’t always mind the former but the latter is infinitely more entertaining to me: protagonists with more humanity and more to lose make for a more suspenseful, relatable film. I have the same issue with superhero movies; watching Superman or Thor perform inhuman feats of skill is cool but it doesn’t compare to watching Police Chief Brody struggle with his fear of the water as he battles a 25ft long man-eating shark all the while aboard a sinking boat. John Wick has a small shred of humanity (mostly in the form of his pets and late wife) but it gets lost in a flurry of somewhat excessive action.
I enjoyed the film. It’s perfect for a 3AM action movie binge but adept action only gets you so far.
Images via Den of Geek and Movie Newz