Review: 'John Wick 2' Bigger, But Not Better, Than Original

Review: 'John Wick 2' Bigger, But Not Better, Than Original

After grappling with two of these movies now, I think the best explanation is that the John Wick films take place in an alternate reality similar to ours in every way, except everyone is a contract killer, and the Code of the Hitman governs all life on Earth.

The plot of John Wick 2 involves the title character (played by Keanu Reeves) pulled back into the hitman game after Italian mafioso Santino D'Antonio (a slimy Riccardo Scamarcio) shows up with a mysterious blood-stained token that requires Wick to perform One Last Job before he can go back into retirement.

Wick declines, and D'Antonio blows up his house (hey, at least they didn’t kill his dog this time around), and as global hitman empire CEO Winston (Ian McShane) explains to him: hey, thems the breaks.

So Wick takes the job to get out of it all. To “tie up loose ends,”  the mafioso then puts out a contract on Wick that sends hundreds of assassins after him, and Wick has to kill his way out of this predicament to earn back his freedom.

And wouldn’t you know it, that pesky hitman hotel - where no when can kill anyone else while staying on hotel grounds - keeps getting in the way of the bloodshed, with characters stepping into the boundaries and taunting Wick. 'Nah, nah, nah, you can't kill me!' 

This is silly stuff. Improbable, illogical, ridiculous stuff that separates itself from our reality entirely. And the filmmakers take it seriously. Not completely seriously, but more seriously than they should.

Would it end with the screenplay, the John Wick films would be throwaway nonsense. But here’s what’s not nonsense: the slam-bang-brutal action scenes, which involve gunplay, knifeplay, chases on vehicle and on foot, and lots and lots of hand-to-hand combat. And copious amounts of blood. 

The action takes up roughly half of the film, and it’s all impeccably staged and shot and executed by director Chad Stahelski, a former stuntman. He gives the film ballet-like fight choreography, impressive practical effects work, and shots so long that we wonder how the filmmakers fit all those moves in a single take.

Highest praise: the action scenes in John Wick: Chapter 2 are better choreographed than anything in the Oscar-winning musical La La Land.

Of course, the skill involved in executing those action scenes is in direct contrast with the silliness of the screenplay. I gave the first film a mild recommendation, and I’ll split the difference here and edge in the other direction.

Chapter 2 is 20 minutes longer than the original Wick, clocking in at an unreasonable 2+ hours. While it contains longer and perhaps better action scenes, it also has more of the gratingly silly hitman stuff.

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