John Wick: Chapter 2


Even John Wick’s dog looks badass.

(2017) Action (Summit) Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Common, Claudia Gerini, Lance Reddick, Laurence Fishburne, Tobias Segal, John Leguizamo, Bridget Moynahan, Thomas Sadoski, Erik Frandsen, David Patrick Kelly, Perry Yung, Franco Nero, Peter Serafinowicz, Peter Stormare, Vadim Kroll, Kelly Rae LeGault. Directed by Chad Stahelski

 

One of the better action films to come down the pike in recent years was John Wick. In it, a retired assassin un-retires himself when the son of a Russian mobster steals his car and kills his dog. Bad career move. Wick kills everyone associated with the dumbass Russian scion and adopts a new dog.

When the movie starts, Wick is going to retrieve his car from yet another Russian mobster (Stormare) and while all he wants is the car, of course the Russian mobster and his men try to take the master assassin down. Yet another bad career move. Even as the boss retells the story of how Wick once killed three men with a pencil (which we also saw in the last movie), Wick mows down every mobster who comes at him, wrecking the car he came to retrieve in the first place but the point is clear.

Wick returns home and puts all of his arsenal under concrete, apparently intending to retire again. However, he has a visitor – an Italian mobster this time named Santino D’Antonio (Scamarcio). Wick owes Santino a favor and the guy intends to collect. It’s what’s called a marker and in the world that Wick lives in, these cannot be refused. Wick promptly refuses and Santino promptly blows up his house.

Deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, Wick decides to fulfill the marker anyway (now minus a house) and takes on the job of killing Santino’s sister Gianna (Gerini) who Santino’s dad made head of the mob after he retired – or in other words, passed on. This didn’t sit well with Santino so he figured that if his sister was out of the way, he could take his rightful place as head of the family.

That’s why Wick heads to Rome, visits a tailor who has a way with Kevlar as well as a sommelier who has a nose for fine German firearms and heads over to a rave cum orgy celebrating sister’s ascension to the head of family status at a Roman ruin – those decadent Italians – and takes her out. This doesn’t sit well with her bodyguard (Common) who now unemployed decides to make a point of expressing his displeasure to Wick. Mayhem ensues.

The plot is a little more labyrinthine than before and we get more background on the world of assassins. The Continental Hotel, neutral ground in the first movie, is apparently a chain and the managers (Ian McShane in New York, Franco Nero in Rome) enforce that neutrality vigorously. We get a sense of the complex support system for the killers and the fairly cut and dried rules governing their behavior. This is all to the good.

The production design is also highly stylized from the Hall of Mirrors-like museum display in Rome, the gaudily lit rave, some of the most stylishly lit catacombs I’ve ever seen, the genteel and urbane Hotels and of course Wick’s Fortress of Solitude before Santino blows it to smithereens.

Where the movie fails, curiously enough, is the action – the strength of the first film. Stahelski fails to maintain the interest of the viewer for the length of the movie which he was able to do in the first. Here, the sequences have the effect of numbing the viewer until you feel quite blasé about the whole thing. I didn’t think I could get jaded in an all-out action film like this, but I did.

I will admit my complaints about the film have not been echoed by other reviewers or by friends who have seen the sequel and proclaimed it better than the original. I disagree, respectfully but nonetheless firmly. While it gives us more plot and more insight into the world the first film created and inhabits it with interesting characters who are portrayed by some fine actors like Fishburne, McShane, Nero and Common, at the end of the day I wanted to be wowed by the action and I just wasn’t. This is reportedly intended to be the middle segment in a planned John Wick trilogy. I hope that the third movie will combine the best points of both movies and create an action movie for the ages. When you’re a movie critic, hope should spring eternal.

REASONS TO GO: The mythology started in the first film is fleshed out more in the second.
REASONS TO STAY: The action scenes become mind-numbing after awhile.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a stupid amount of violence, a fair amount of profanity and a scene with graphic nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Stahelski was Reeves’ stunt double in The Matrix trilogy.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/5/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Kill Bill: Vol. 1
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: The Great Wall

Pick of the Litter – April 2017


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

The Fate of the Furious

(Universal) Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Charlize Theron. The first post-Paul Walker film in the franchise shakes things up quite a bit. Dominic Toretto does the unthinkable; he turns on his gang, his family. He has thrown his lot in with a manipulative cyber terrorist. Stopping the two of them becomes a big priority and they’re going to have help from an unexpected quarter – the man they just put away. April 14

INDEPENDENT PICKS

The Transfiguration

(Strand) Eric Ruffin, Chloe Levine, Lloyd Kaufman, Anna Friedman. This is a unique take on vampire films. Milo is a young African-American teen who is fascinated with vampires to the point of obsession. He meets Sophie who is also an outsider and the two form a strong bond but that bond is beginning to push Milo further into the belief that drinking human blood will transform him into an actual vampire. April 7

Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary

(Abramorama) Denzel Washington (voice), Common, Bill Clinton, Carlos Santana. John Coltrane is without question one of the brightest lights in the jazz pantheon. His music transcends boundaries or even description – it is music that is felt and experienced more than listened to. He remains today as influential a musician as he has ever been and his story deserves to be told and his music heard by those who haven’t yet had a chance to experience the miracle that is John Coltrane. April 14

Queen of the Desert

(IFC) Nicole Kidman, James Franco, Damian Lewis, Robert Pattinson. There are few things in life that make me as happy as hearing “a new Werner Herzog film.” While this isn’t strictly new (it was originally released in 2015 and is only now making it to the US) it is at least new to us. This is based on the extraordinary but true story of Gertrude Bell, a British woman of many talents who held a particular fascination for the Bedouin on whose affairs she advised the British government during the early years of the 20th century. As policies changed, she found herself at odds with her own government – and taking the side of the people whom she cherished. April 14

Demain

(Under the Milky Way) Melanie Laurent, Cyril Dion, Olivier De Schutter, Michelle Long. When French actress Laurent was pregnant, her activist husband told her that her child could live in a world of food shortages, clean water shortages, overpopulation and scarce energy. She was determined not just to find a way to avoid this future but to seek out alternatives to it. This is a documentary Laurent and her husband made looking for viable solutions to all of those problems now before it is too late. April 14

Finding Oscar

(FilmRise) Kate Doyle, Scott Greathead, Sebastian Rotella, Fredy Peccerelli. In 1982, a massacre occurred in the tiny Guatemalan village of Dos Erres. In the 35 years since the tragedy, justice has yet to be served and the victims lie in unquiet graves. There is hope in the form of a little boy who may have survived the massacre and may be able to finally shed light on what happened and bring those that perpetrated this heinous crime to justice. The search for that boy – now a man – is not an easy one however. April 14

Phoenix Forgotten

(Cinelou) Matt Biedel, Ana Dela Cruz, Florence Hartigan, Jeanine Jackson. While many feel that found footage horror films have run their course, it has to be said that having an A-list director like Ridley Scott involved in the production is at least intriguing. The incident that this is based on – the Phoenix lights – actually did happen. The footage of three teens who disappeared shortly thereafter did not. Doesn’t mean it can’t be a cool and scary movie though. April 21

 

 Bang! The Bert Berns Story

(Abramorama) Steven van Zandt (narrator), Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Van Morrison. Bert Berns was a songwriter and producer of some of the biggest rock and soul hits of the Sixties. Songs like “Twist and Shout,” “Hang on Sloopy” and “Another Piece of My Heart” all sprung from his fertile mind. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016 and some say it would have been sooner but for his association with Tommy Ryan – a high ranking member of the mob – which threw a cloud over his career. April 26