*. I had a moment of misgiving just before I started in on John Wick: Chapter 2. Not because I didn’t like John Wick (I didn’t), but because I’d pretty much forgotten what that film had been about. Was I going to be able to follow the sequel?
*. There was no reason to fear. Chapter 2 begins with John (Keanu Reeves) messily tidying up loose ends from the previous film and it didn’t matter (at least to me) that I had no memory of what those loose ends were. It was all just carnage.
*. So the story here is that John thought he was out of the game but he gets roped back in by way of some arcane oath of the assassins’ guild that he’s a member of. He performs a high profile hit in Rome but soon realizes he’s been double crossed and that there’s an open contract on his head. I think that covers it.
*. Given how little I thought of the first movie, my expectations were low going in. I’m happy to say however that those expectations were surpassed and that I actually liked Chapter 2. Sure it’s dumb, but it’s a lot more fun than the previous film. Here are some improvements.
*. (1) It’s less of a video game and more of a comic book. What I mean by this, primarily, is that there’s more of a fantasy superhero storyline to follow and less first-person shooter fight scenes (though it has those as well). And the storyline was even a bit interesting. Certainly more so than the first movie, whose plot I had, as I’ve said, totally forgotten.
*. (2) There’s more humour. I mentioned in my notes on John Wick how they hadn’t exploited Keanu Reeves’ constipated delivery and natural comic ability to deadpan everything. Think Christian Bale with a saving hint of irony. Well, they get more out of that here. “The blade is in your aorta” is almost laugh-out-loud good (I mean, how does he even know?), but most of the best lines (not the ones written for the trailer) bring quiet smiles. Look at the expression on John’s face when Franco Nero asks him if he has come to Rome for the Pope. Damn, Keanu Reeves is actually good in this movie. I’m as surprised as you.
*. (3) We get some nice scenery. Mostly Rome (which, according to producer Basil Iwanyk in one of the “making of” featurettes, “has been around for a thousand years”) and New York (or Montreal standing in for New York). They also pick some nice settings for the fight sequences. I liked the dramatically lit catacombs and the rolling down the steps and the struggle on the subway car. OK, the hall of mirrors is old, but it looks terrific here tricked out to look all bright and shiny like a pinball game. You can’t go wrong with the classics.
*. Because it’s a comic book it’s all a fantasy, so you don’t even mind the way John keeps shooting up cities without any sign of law enforcement. Nor does the general public seem all that impressed at what’s going on. It’s almost like John and the assassins exist in some kind of parallel reality next door to our own, what I think director Chad Stahelski means when he talks about the “Wick World” on the commentary. The assassins walk (and fight, and shoot) among us, but we can’t see them.
*. In addition to all the great locations from the action sequences I have to acknowledge how much I enjoyed the assassin switchboard. I think it was the way all the ’50s-style operators are covered in tattoos. Tats are big in Wick World.
*. So John has a bad-ass dog but he doesn’t bother giving it a name and we never see it doing anything. Perhaps in the next film. Otherwise I’m not sure what he’s there for.
*. Ruby Rose looks tough, but she doesn’t get much of a final fight with John does she? On the other hand, since we never actually see her die she might be back for the sequel. I’m assuming Cassian (Common) will have that knife out of his aorta by then too. [Note: Neither character came back for Chapter 3.]
*. Laurence Fishburne as the Bowery King seems to be settling into his role as Wise Black Man now. Which is almost a shame. But then, Ian McShane is just as typecast these days.
*. Yes, it’s all brainless noise. But in a market crowded with brainless noise it’s better than most. The end here even left me looking forward to the next instalment. It’s John against everyone now, and do you doubt he will prevail? To adapt Archimedes: just give him enough bullets and he could depopulate the world.