John Wick has a new dog, and he’s going to murder everyone. What more could you want?
That could honestly be the premise for many action movies, but “John Wick: Chapter 2” sets the pace for a generation of action movies to come. It’s slick, stylized and profound, embracing more thoughtful and polished gun-fu excitement than just raw adrenaline or machismo. Chad Stahelski has doubled down on the sheer surprise and success of the original “John Wick” that seemed to revive Keanu Reeves from the action hero graveyard. Both films will likely live on as action movie classics.
When we last left John Wick (Reeves), he had murdered everyone. Some thugs broke into his home, stole his car and killed his dog. Not smart. The sequel opens with a more conventional Bond movie spree, with Wick tying up the loose ends of the original film. Now he’s back in his home with a new dog, thinking he’s finally retired and out of the game. But news of his return leads an old partner, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) to claim payment on a marker John once gave him. John is to kill Santino’s crime lord sister, and when he does, John seeks to prevent Santino from rising to power.
The plot is hardly important, but part of the fun of both John Wick movies lies in exploring the elaborate secret society of contract killers. Exclusive hotels are armed to the tooth with weapons for the aspiring assassin. And everything from a stylish, tailored Armani suit lined with bullet proof fabric to a beer costs a fancy gold coin. You’d never see Schwarzenegger talking with a sommelier comparing assault rifles to the boldness and flavor of wine grapes, but Reeves’s flat tone and cool presence fits the film’s lavishness.
But the original didn’t have John Wick fighting the rapper Common on a New York subway train. They’re discreetly trying to walk through the station, and from underneath their arms they’re taking silent pock-shots at one another. It’s a hilarious little dance, and all the commuters are either blissfully unaware or don’t care. They’ve seen worse on a NY subway.
The original also didn’t have Santino’s mute bodyguard killer Ares (Ruby Rose), who takes on John in a glittering hall of mirrors. It’s the rare fight sequence that’s remarkably stylized and that forces the protagonist to stare into his own soul as he fights. Nor did it have John impaling a pair of assassins with a pencil, or bringing down another sumo wrestler-sized attacker, or launching bullets into a crowded rave inside what look like ancient Italian catacombs.
Like the hall of mirrors sequence mentioned earlier, Stahelski treats each action scene like a museum piece, delicate and carefully choreographed, but each is a gloriously beautiful and brutal color and lights show. It’s simply unmatched by superhero movies of nothing but CGI mayhem.
“Whoever comes, I’ll kill them. I’ll kill them all,” John says. “John Wick 2” has stunning cinematography, a complex, burdened protagonist and a high-art sensibility. But it’s an action movie. And it’s a classic because at the end of the day, it never fails to live up to that promise.