Rated R for strong violence throughout, some language and brief nudity
Written by Derek Kolstad, based on characters created by Derek Kolstad
Directed by Chad Stahelski
Starring Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Common, Claudia Gerini, Lance Reddick, Laurence Fishburn and more
Grade: Two and a half stars
The more I get to know John Wick, the more I worry about him.
This weekend’s “John Wick: Chapter 2,” the even bloodier sequel to 2014’s “John Wick,” offers the same satisfyingly high body count and surprisingly interesting assassin-run world as the original. Unlike essentially every other action sequel I’ve ever seen, however, it also dramatically deepened my understanding of the lead character and his motivations.
If you’ve never seen the first movie, all you need to know that John Wick (Keanu Reeves) was a famed assassin feared by all who got out of the game because he fell in love. After his wife died of natural causes, some thieves broke into his house, stole his car, and killed his dog. In response, he killed basically everyone even vaguely involved.
The sequel follows in the immediate aftermath of that and, unsurprisingly, requires vastly greater amounts of killing. Wick’s week starts out bad and, unfortunately, gets worse. Since this is an alternate universe where possibly one in every three people are an assassin (at least in Wick’s immediate vicinity) and normal citizenry are so used to random street violence that they don’t even both screaming, no one much cares.
My main problem with the original film was Wick himself, which was mostly incapable of making any facial expressions beyond mild humor, complete neutrality, and the promise of death. Originally, I assumed that was simply a failing of Reeves’ performance, since that’s his usual range of facial expressions no matter what role he’s in, but “Chapter 2” strongly implied that the creative team genuinely wanted Wick to be that way.
His character was insanely respected and feared by the assassin community – to the point where it’s almost comical in some places – but you get the impression that assassin Wick never cared about anything. He was so good at what he did because emotions never got in the way – no fear, no pride, no guilt. Wick has exactly two emotional responses – faint, painfully dry humor, which he saves for friends and those he respects, and murder. To him, a killing spree over a dog and a car wasn’t the wildly overdramatic reaction it seemed to be in the original. Now that his wife is dead, it’s just all he knows how to do.
The assassin world is as fascinating as it was last time, possibly even more so because we get a deeper, more international taste. I still argue that a movie focusing entirely on the staff of one of the assassin “hotels” would be the best thing ever, because the creative team has clearly thought through this entire, complex system they only get to show us small portions of. I want it all.
But let Wick rest. Honestly, I don’t think he can take much more of this.