“I can assure you, that the stories that you hear about his man, if nothing else, has (sic) been watered down” says Peter Stormare’s (Fargo, The Big Lebowski) character, Abram, at the start of John Wick: Chapter 2. It’s probably the kindest thing anyone can say in regards to a ‘story’ where John Wick was concerned, is Chapter 2 any different?
It’s about this time when I realise that some of my reviews seem to have been lost in the ether, including, annoyingly, my review of the first John Wick movie. I, unlike so many others – and perhaps surprisingly given my penchant for this type of movie – did not like the first one. I can’t quite remember my exact reasons these days and can’t bring myself to sit through it again. So I enter Chapter 2 fresh faced and ‘without prejudice’.
Straight from the off though the story is more than familiar. Mr Wick, played woodenly as ever by Keanu Reeves (The Matrix trilogies), is attempting to retire, with dog, from his life as the world’s best assassin. Obviously, you don’t just retire from being an assassin and everyone still wants a piece of him in one form or other.
This time round it is Santino D’Antonio (seriously?), played by Riccardo Scamarcio (Burnt, Loose Cannons), who has a ‘mark’ – some kind of blood can’t-be-broken-favour – that Wick has to honour. The ‘favour’ D’Antonio wants is for Wick to kill his sister so that he may take her place at some super-bad-guy round table. Wick tries to turn him down, fails, so takes the job and, unsurprisingly, is double-crossed by D’Antonio who attempts to kill him. Queue, bullet ballet.
What’s good about the John Wick movies is that he kills people as you’d expect. There’s no p*ssy-footing around, bad-guys telling their life stories, good-guys dying slowly, Wick simply puts a couple of bullets in them or stabs them in the heart or occasionally kicks the crap out of them…and then puts a bullet in them.
It’s how you’d expect an assassin to kill people and he does it, a lot. Which is where a couple of issues begin to arise. You see, Wick does dither over a couple of deaths; there are a few bad-guys who seem to be ‘super bad-guys’ that take a little extra time to kill.
For example, despite being sent to kill D’Antonio’s sister, played by Claudia Gerini (The Passion of the Christ, The Unknown Woman), she is allowed to tell her story, before she tops herself and he sticks a bullet in her head for good measure.
Then her bodyguard, played by Common (Selma, Wanted), takes all kinds of attempts before he dies. Including round after round of gunshots, despite previously Wick dispatching people with single shots. It doesn’t add up, it’s not consistent, it annoys me.
This brings me onto the directing, long-time readers will know my anger at shaky-cam use during fight scenes. It’s bad, stop it. We get a bit of that by director Chad Stahelski (better known as a stuntman on things like The Matrix movies), but it’s ok.
What I didn’t find ‘fun’ was the tunnel bullet ballet scene. Why go through all that choreography to shoot something in the dark? Or the mirror scene, all that faff to ensure cameras and people aren’t visible, more choreography and then he films the fighting via the floor…I just don’t get it.
Other times the directing is great, we see fights full scene so we can see what’s actually going on, car crashes are fun, chases are ok.
Reeves gets about ten lines in the whole movie, which is still ten lines too many. Ian McShane is back as Winston, Lance Reddick as Charon, John Leguizamo in a ‘oh it’s him, oh he’s gone’ cameo and Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix trilogies – noticing a pattern?) with a ‘what the hell was the point in that’ cameo.
Where the movie really does well is in the montages which are the best parts of the film. Wick needs to tool-up for his next adventure which sees him visiting a man for some plans and keys, a couple of tailors for a bullet-proof suit and Peter Serafinowicz (Guardians of the Galaxy, Shaun of the Dead) as a Sommelier…of guns, who pretty much manages to steal the whole movie.
The second montage is around halfway through and comes as a bounty is put on Wick’s head invoking every assassin within a few miles to come after him. It’s these light-hearted moments, even as he’s dispatching assassins who are attempting to kill him, that keep the movie from really failing. The cutting between various attacks and moves and deaths is very well done.
The movie is dark, in both tone and lighting, though you will find yourself laughing. The continuity is about as good as the Commando film (watch the early car chase not-so-carefully) and the death count probably exceeds the same. This should give you a good feel for the John Wick movies if you haven’t seen any.
Ultimately, coming in at nearly two-hours, I feel John Wick: Chapter 2 is too long, there’s too much of what we’ve already seen and I don’t really feel the movie moves the trilogy (yes, we have a third to, er, ‘look forward to’?) along any. Sure, we’re setup for an almighty bullet ballet for Chapter 3 but why couldn’t we have had that for Chapter 2? There was nothing stopping it from being so.