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JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 is Much Higher Concept, Still Plenty of Fun (Review)

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 is Much Higher Concept, Still Plenty of Fun (Review)

I confess to having secretly scoffed when John Wick‘s creators recently talked about doing a TV series to flesh out the mythology of their world. Wasn’t the whole point of John Wick that it was a back-to-basics, simple concept about a guy avenging his dead dog? Wasn’t it so popular specifically because of how straightforward the story was in an era of CGI? Wouldn’t an expanded universe defy the point? (Even his catchphrase, “I’m back,” was a simplification of a more famous one.) Clearly, I had forgotten how much I loved the other touches: the Continental Hotel, yes, but also the cinematic world in which everybody you see turns out to be some kind of assassin, and normal folks or innocent bystanders may as well not even exist. John Wick: Chapter 2 reminded me of this, and I won’t make that mistake again.

The sequel begins by tying up a loose end; Wick (Keanu Reeves) still wants his car back, and OF COURSE it’s in the possession of none other than Peter Stormare, in character as the sort of Russian thug he plays in every other movie. The vehicle emerges from the rescue attempt worse for wear–nearly as bad as Wick’s puppy in the previous film, though it does “live.”

After that little diversion, which is the equivalent to the many James Bond opening sequences that have nothing to do with the mission that ensues, we get a pretty good justification for the sequel to exist, as opposed to assassin Wick simply unretiring again for the hell of it. Turns out that because he unretired in the last film, he has to do a whole new penance mission in order to officially retire again. Said mission expands the mythology further–whatever global syndicate it is that runs the Continental has a governing council, and one of its seats is in dispute between siblings. By killing one, Wick will automatically promote the other.

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Without spoiling too many details, the deal has about as many asterisks to the outcome as Shylock’s pound of flesh contract in The Merchant of Venice, or a deal with Darth Vader. Because of the outcome, various consequences kick in that ensure the end result will not, in fact, be the peaceful retirement of John Wick. But who would want that anyway, right?

In addition to expanding its world by showing that the Continental is in fact a global chain of hitman hotels and not just the one, Chapter 2 also showcases other factions at work, like the secret network run by a pigeon-tossing Laurence Fishburne, hamming it up as a mysterious underworld leader far less balanced than the last character he played opposite Reeves.

Another great new element to the John Wick world: If a character in this tale is not secretly a hit-person, they are willfully or ignorantly oblivious; in the funniest visual gag, Wick and a rival played by Common casually shoot at each other with silencers through a crowd of extras who couldn’t care less, or even be bothered to notice.

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That aside, what you probably want to know is the degree of ass that gets kicked, and on what level. While I confess that I’d like to see Wick diversify his tactics beyond dropping opponents in armbars and shooting them in the ribcage or head repeatedly, I cannot deny that it’s satisfying every time. Because most of the characters wear semi-bulletproof suits, this can be repeated over and over on the same opponent, and frankly, Wick ought to be dead after any number of battles shown here. The one-on-one battles with Common are spectacular, however, doing for MMA-inspired movie fights what They Live did for pro-wrestling-inspired fights.

If you can’t shake the feeling that Chapter 2 feels like the middle part of a trilogy, that’s because it is hoped to be; the story ends on a kind of cliffhanger that clearly anticipates a bigger budget for a potenital Chapter 3. The outcome may be largely predetermined–you don’t seriously think a series called John Wick will ever kill off John Wick, do you?–but we’re thinking with a few more moves beyond that armbar, he can be even more extra-lethal in installments to come.

And now, to answer the most important question: No dogs die in this sequel. You can wholeheartedly recommend this movie to your friends who love seeing fictional humans painfully killed en masse, but burst into uncontrollable sobbing if the story offs a single four-legged friend.

Yeah, I’m thinking four burritos out of five.

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Images: Lionsgate


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