“John Wick. The man, the myth, the legend.” – The Bowery King
It is no mistake that the first act of John Wick: Chapter 2 takes place in Rome. The movie never hides its positioning of John Wick as a god among mortals. Watching Chapter 1 (John Wick, but I will refer to it as Chapter 1 throughout this article to avoid confusion) with Sam and some friends last week, Sam commented on the way it flipped the structure of most flicks. The protagonist isn’t the hunted, he’s the hunter, and the antagonists are just trying to throw anything in his path to stop him. It’s rare for a movie to begin with the protagonist with an upper hand. But it makes sense in a universe where everyone knows and fears John Wick.
Chapter 2 picks up hours or days after the last one ended. John Wick (Keanu Reeves) retrieves the car stolen in the first film in one of the best acton pieces of the whole movie (with his car serving as an extension of his body, much like the final sequence of Chapter 1). Determined to retire one more his plans are interrupted when an old… ally, I guess?, certainly not friend, shows up and demands one final job. Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) demands that Wick assassinate Gianna D’Antonio (Claudia Gerini), Santino’s sister, so that Santino may take her place at “The High Table”. Santino presents John with the Blood Oath Marker that John gave him years ago, and John’s hand is essentially forced.
The movie doesn’t hide its mythic and operatic influences. Nearly every scene has some sort of deity in the background. The main antagonist of the movie spends nearly the whole film in a museum of Classical Greek and Roman statues, and is always framed among them. Eastern deities as well as crosses and Christ are scattered throughout. In John Wick we watched John as a god reign down chaos, but in John Wick: Chapter 2 he has “come home” as it were, and been elevated to the level of the other gods once more.
Here John Wick must contend with his fellow gods. Satino and Gianna are joined by Winston (Ian McShane), the owner of the Continental from the first film, and a sort of God among Gods – above the action, a enforcer of the rules the other gods must operate under. John also faces off against fellow assassins Cassian (Common) and Ares (Ruby Rose). The mythology of this movie is much denser. There are more rules and more ruling bodies, more debts owed, more professional pride, more infrastructure for the criminal underworld. Again borrowing from classical mythology this mythic world overlays our own. Running down a subway tunnel a wounded John Wick tosses a gold coin in a beggar’s tin can and rasps “take me to him”. The beggar brings him to criminal mastermind Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne). As John and the King part ways the King sends him down an elevator to the interlocking tunnels that apparently connect the whole city. “Welcome to Hell,” quips the King as John descends. The expanded world of John Wick, and its surreal overlaying of our own more innocent (and fragile) world, is the movies greatest strength.
Of course these mythic qualities have some downsides. By offering John real individuals who pose threats, the movie has taken away the danger of the masses. John plows through mooks with stupid ease, and while Keanu is truly a force of nature in the role there are only so many times you can watch him shoot a nameless bodyguard in the head before it gets a little boring. The first John Wick had some risk. This one does too, but only if John is facing off against someone with a name. This, along with some replays of fights from the first movie, make for the movie to feel a little longer than it needs to be. Either it should have been cut down, or the threats of each scene should have been ratcheted up. Caring more about Wick himself would have helped. Wick may be dead inside, but little glints into what makes him tick would go a long way to heightening the drama of any scene.
But truly the good outweighs the bad. The movies surreal plot and complicated world translates well into the visuals, which match the larger than life characters. A blue jacuzzi filling with blood. The ancient catacombs of Rome. A final shoot out in an enormous funhouse of mirrors and LED screens (a throw back, surely, to The Lady from Shanghai). John Wick Chapter 2 is more visually interesting and kinetic than most modern action movies (and especially more interesting looking than its Marvel and YA dystopian counterparts with their washed out grays and blues).
If nothing else, John Wick: Chapter 2 ratchets up its aggressively weirdness, and the first movie was already pretty weird, so I have to respect that.
John Wick Chapter 2 gets 7.5 out of 10 greek gods.
-The fight sequences with too many goons truly are a little boring, which is a shame because everything else in the movie works pretty well. John Wick also gets a bullet proof suit in this movie, which is cool but lowers the odds since the goons absolutely refuse to learn how to aim for the head.
-Call me an old man, but this movie was more gory than the last one and I didn’t think it was necessary.
-This movie continued my favorite gag from the last movie, with every single character knowing every single other character by name. It is hilarious, and works well in the mythic world – these people are folk heroes even within their own world.