Do we even need a John Wick 2?
A most unnecessary of questions. It is no stretch to say that no sequel can ever truly be considered as such. By their very fiscal nature, the exploitation of brand has long become the prime practice for studios, and with bringing back 2014's action dark horse, the one question that rang most loudly for me was, "What else could there possibly be left to say?" Well masterminds Derek Kolstad, Leitch and Stehalski, have found an intriguing answer in what is easily one of the bolder, more rough-and-tumble follow-ups in recent memory. With Chapter 2, Keanu reaches deep into his cinematic past & present, coming out light years beyond fellow contestants for aging badasses on film.
Opening shortly after the events of Chapter One, Wick is still roaring on a warpath for his stolen vehicle after avenging the death of Daisy the dog. Read that again, those unfamiliar with the first film's occasionally misunderstood inciting incident. Soon after dispensing the son of a fellow underworld kingpin for the canine murder, the second part of his mission against the underworld who stole his time to grieve the loss of his wife continues with a furious combination hand-to-hand-meets-car fight that must simply be seen to be believed (and heard). It is in the finale of this battle, that it is again made abundantly clear that the car itself wasn't the core focus of his fury, but rather the gravitational pull his life as a legendary hitman has prevented him from any semblance of peace. Retirement has found itself to be in utter ruins with the losses in such succession. And the quiet aftermath is broken almost immediately with the introduction of the one most responsible for his four years away from "that life", Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) once made a "mark" with Wick, binding him for a favor in exchange for freedom. And as the embers of his renewed action have only begun to cool, D'Antonio comes to Wick to pay the check by asking him to assassinate his sister, who is to be granted high ranking powers in Rome. With peace seemingly achieved at last, Wick refuses. And in doing so, invites near total destruction.
Trapped between his will to be done with both dealing death, and the ties that bind the clandestine society that seems to own him body and soul take center stage. The canvas broadens when Wick travels to Rome, encouraged to follow these detailed and arch rules in hopes of finally being released. Naturally, the rules are far from enough as matters begin to complicate, leaving Wick with virtually nowhere to hide. Much like what Viggo promised in the original film, "we are cursed", Wick must delve deeper into the world that embraced him, face his greatest gift/curse, and come out of hell alive. But not without some incredible handiwork and hardware. The life of a titan was never a guarantee of salvation.
From frame one, we are re-introduced to the world of the character as this paean to action cinema of generations past. We even see projected upon a building wall, a silent film featuring an incredible stunt. Pretty telling about what we're about to witness. A celebration of unfiltered kinetics, coupled with galling daring. Whether it be with vehicles as swinging lefts and rights against human bodies, or complicated judo and jiu-jitsu moves ending in scary precise headshots, the love and care for real on-set stuntwork is at the forefront. Stahelsky and Leitch, being stunt doubles and second unit directors over the years has culminated in the Wick world, creating a netherworld of pure danger with pure physicality. Somehow, they have merged their passions with a longing for the modern and ancient. Art museums, ornate light displays, and ancient statues of mythological beings watching over the proceedings as if this were a rock performance of Dante's Inferno. John Wick's world is a slick, yet hard boiled universe all its own, juxtaposed with our daily goings on just feet away from the absurd bloodshed. It's a paradox that perhaps even The Matrix so badly wanted to evoke. That's right. I'm saying it. John Wick Chapter 2, is what I wanted Matrix Reloaded to be. Unerring in its adoring its influences, while creating a concrete visual language that tells more about a character than any dialogue could deliver. Bursting at the edges with stunning action sequences coupled with dazzlingly surreal imagery.
Which isn't to say that there aren't great exchanges. With writer Kolstad back in the game, the enigmatic rules of the previous film have only expanded toward the sheer scope of Wick's underworld, the Continental, and its well-dressed creatures, all looking toward keeping up decorum. Everyone Wick encounters know the score of the game they're playing, all wondering where their part in all of this is going to land. As inertia begins to center around the legendary killer's return, D'Antonio is eager to close the loop he has started by forcing Wick into this situation. And in doing so, it's more than this shadowy syndicate of criminality that stands to change, but Wick's home of New York City as well. Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, and Lance Reddick return to provide welcome familiarity, as well as some new dimension to a world that is ready for upending. New faces include Claudia Gerrini, Common, and Lawrence Fishburne, that further open up the mythology to surprisingly funny and effective places. This syndicate is global, resembling a journey between not only nations, but realms of belief from the ancient to the personal. Make no mistake, John Wick transcends heaven and hell with every person he meets through this installment. Not only are we voyaging through the Point Blanks, and Le Samourais of the cinema pantheon, but of centuries of belief.
From vicious close quarters combat ending in a quiet shared drink, to honoring debts with calculated violence, we again see the seams beginning to rip between generations to high tables of influence. Keanu Reeves, again granting Wick a tired, weary but undeterred gravity that works as well between shared glances, and body shots. His entire physicality is on hand for Chapter 2, and in ways that defy description for a star of his caliber. The dedication alone for this character remains a singular feat as he is seen driving, shooting, grappling, and ultimately ever lurching forward toward destiny. Ever the bad ass, but not the kind of bad ass of the past that pushes ever on seemingly unscathed. The life of a creature this haunted, is the kind with so much cruelty and resolve that it becomes (as frightening as it may sound) hard not to identify. Being the Babayaga, is not for the faint of heart.
Which brings us back to the beginning. What is there left to be said with John Wick? Looking back at the first film now, and seeing how that surprisingly elegant piece of work was merely the beginning of the end of Wick's journey toward personal illumination. That the life of the baddest of the bad can not simply find solace playing by the rules set to him by deities beyond his reach. He is inextricably linked by the blood he has shed. And as such, can never be truly free from the demon that he so comfortably rested upon his shoulder for so many years. While he was indeed away for four years, they were always on borrowed time no matter how much he loved his late wife, Helen. And for him to ever be fully purged of this accursed shell, he may have to embrace the life of a mortal wholeheartedly. And to do that, John Wick's journey outside the realm of the gods, may just be one for the ages.