I did not see “John Wick” when it first came out. The plot — retired assassin goes on revenge spree after his dog is killed — just sounded too stupid. But it kept getting rave reviews so I eventually checked it out on video.
Wow. What a great film. Sure, it’s a heaping pile of revenge movie clichés, but it’s so well done. Naturally, success breeds sequels, so here we are with “John Wick: Chapter 2.” Again, I had my doubts. The first film told a complete story — was there really anywhere else to go with this character?
Once again I had made the same mistake common to many of his enemies — I had underestimated John Wick. Fortunately, I am not John Wick’s enemy, so I am alive to tell the tale.
The movie opens by cleaning up some leftover business from the first film, as John (Keanu Reeves) goes tearing through New York City to retrieve his stolen car. The car is in the possession of a thug (Peter Stormare) who calmly explains to his aide — and anyone in the audience who hadn’t seen the first movie — just how dangerous John Wick is. In the first of many dizzying, brutal, and expertly choreographed action sequences, John goes through a dozen or so of the chop shop owner’s employees before driving away in his now totaled (damaged in the fight, of course) Mustang.
John goes home, intending to continue with his retirement, when a visitor from the past shows up on his doorstep. Italian crime lord Santino D’Antonio ( Riccardo Scamarcio) is calling in a marker — a blood debt that John owes him. Insisting he’s still retired, John refuses Santino’s request. Santino responds by blowing up John’s house.
Now, in the world of John Wick there are many rules and regulations overseeing the assassination trade. John goes to Winston (Ian McShane) for advice. Winston runs the Continental Hotel, a safe haven for assassins, and he pretty much oversees the rules of the business.
Winston tells John he has no choice but to pay off his debt. John meets with Santino and is told his job is to kill Santino’s rival-and-sister, Gianna (Claudia Gerini). She’s well protected, of course, and killing her could lead to even more trouble for our retired assassin.
Directed once again by Chad Stahelski, this sequel features the usual excesses that sequels often have, but in this case that works to the film’s favor. The fight scenes, the chases and the gun battles are all bigger and more explosive than last time around. But unlike bad sequels, this one doesn’t lose the heart or imaginative style that set the first film apart. Keanu’s portrayal of John Wick continues to evoke our sympathy and support, even as he’s shooting people in the head again and again and again.
“John Wick: Chapter 2” is a clever and fitting continuation of the John Wick saga. And it sets things up nicely for the next installment, which I will not be so quick to prejudge.