Legendary film characters just happen; they can’t be forced. In 2014, we were introduced to John Wick, the boogeyman of hitmen at the twilight of his career, his reputation preceding him wherever he goes, inspiring trepidation in all he encounters. The Continental, a quirky underground fraternal order of assassins, resources, and even their own economy, exists in plain sight. Much like other films of this nature, we are given a glimpse at the glamour of the profession without so much as an intimation at the emotional toil, law enforcement interaction, or health consequences.
Realism aside, the 12-year-old boy in me loved the film. It’s the typical macho fantasy of the most dangerous type of man, feared even among the most dangerous and ruthless killers in the criminal underworld. A true alpha male with fighting skills spanning all disciplines: hands, feet, knives, guns, cars. He’s an aged, grizzled, slow-moving man with a bloodthirst, but he has a moral code, and apparently a soft spot for dogs and American muscle cars. You can’t write this any better, folks.
Keanu Reeves is in his element. A man of few words (the fewer the better), he delivers one-liners with a focus that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger proud, but there’s something about his acting that is still laughable. It’s something we’ve come to not only expect, but that we hold endearing, and the fact that he continues to take on action roles well into his 50s is testament to the physical training he endures. He does look smooth with the gun, and accomplishes some impressive judo that was no doubt intended to channel “The Matrix” and the Kung-Fu fury of Neo.
Director Chad Stahelski was elevated to his position after a long and distinguished career of stunt work, coordination, and eventually, second-unit direction. The action is clearly the draw, as is Reeves’ pseudo-iconic character. He puts a good deal of attention toward the confrontations, but the bloodshed gets old after a while. There’s only so many head shot squibs a person can handle. It’s hard to tell if the intent is to be an ultra-violent action film, or if it’s simply a byproduct of the narrative. Either way, the sheer number of deaths actually gets old, as waves and waves of nameless henchmen keep running headfirst into the boogeyman and all of the deadly tricks of his trade.
Writer Derek Kolstad is the weak link of the trio (it’s a stretch to say the others are strong). “John Wick: Chapter 2” would be just as good as a silent film, as every conversation is a bit too cool for school, and leads with the unspoken glance, and ends with Keanu completely butchering his delivery. The dialogue is awful, and doesn’t contribute anything significant to the plot, which is absurd in its own right. Even the attempt to imply that there are hundreds of assassins hidden among us dilutes the novelty of the genre and makes the film more Roger Corman and less, I don’t know, John Woo.
Supporting players Ruby Rose and Ian McShane headline a cast of dozens of hitmen and henchmen of all shapes and sizes. I have to say, I was disappointed in Ruby Rose’s Ares. She’s the mysterious attractive female assassin, but, spoiler alert, she doesn’t deliver the final showdown payoff that her presence advertises. McShane overacts as the manager of the establishment that apparently runs the New York hitman union, but he has one of those gravelly voices that can put you in a trance, so he is forgiven.
“John Wick: Chapter 2” isn’t all bad. I mostly enjoyed the action, when it wasn’t redundant. The opening scene and the shootout ballets are exceptionally choreographed, and it looks like the whole experience might have been a tad painful for Reeves (and his double). You go to certain movies for specific reasons, and this one provides the violence desired. I was thrown off by the blatant attempt to make this a viable franchise, when in fact it’s more of a one-hit wonder. The original is worth checking out, this one not so much unless you’re a big fan of the genre. Or a 12-year-old boy.