Starring Keanu Reeves. Rated 14A
In a clear nod to its instant-cult-classic first installment, John Wick: Chapter 2 opens with a genuinely scary, finger-tattooed Russian gang boss quaking in his boots because his underling has stolen a certain someone’s beloved ’69 Mustang.
“It is not just a car! It is John Wick’s car!” he scolds. “He once killed three men in a bar with a fuckin’ pencil!”
We are now in the realm of self-parody and deadpan comedy. We feel in-the-know: we’ve seen what Wick can do, and we witnessed what the loss of that car—and a puppy—made him do in the last movie. So, tonally, stuntman turned director Chad Stahelski is on the right track here. He knows he has to accept the outrageousness of the first film, just like he has to up the stylized violence in this much-anticipated follow-up.
And for the most part, the bullet-riddled formula works again. The setup is that Keanu Reeves’s former assassin is forced out of retirement a second time. He still owes a debt to the villainous Santino D’Antonio (the sinister Riccardo Scamarcio), who sends him to Rome to kill his sister so he can take over an international crime syndicate. As in John Wick, the wooden Reeves is given a merciful minimum of dialogue when he isn’t kung-fu-fighting, slice-and-dicing, or close-range shooting his way through crowds of bad guys. (“Never one to waste words,” quips D’Antonio.)
The magical golden coins and secret mob hotels are back, too. But the sequel has gone wildly over the top with its own mythology. The story wanders into elaborate underground panhandler kingdoms, huge hall-of-mirrors museum installations, and luxurious mobster dens set in Roman catacombs.
Chapter 2 lacks the clean cause-and-effect tension of the first. It’s gone grandiose and baroque in the style department, and lost some of the taut, film-noir edge as a result. Some of the details are absurdly amusing. Check out the hotel sommelier who’s hawking guns instead of Gewürztraminer, or the kickass female assassin who speaks in sign language. And what if all those homeless people in New York City were actually an intricate network of operatives?
Stupidly enjoyable as all this is, by the time this Wick burns out, you might actually be wondering if there is such a thing as too much—too many bullets, too many chases, and especially, too many times a dude can be run over and stand up again. In the first film, the “gun-fu” was rooted in a guy acting out his grief for his wife and his mutt. Here, all the bombast might leave you feeling cold—and only partly because all John Wick seems to care about is that ’69 Mustang.