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Movie Review: “John Wick 2”

by Douglas Ernst

Keanu Reeves recently told Empire magazine during promotional work for John Wick: Chapter 2 that fans of the 2014 breakout film should expect the equivalent of a “porterhouse” instead of a “fillet” this time around. He wasn’t lying. The retired assassin who can’t seem to stay retired is back with bigger and bolder “Gun-Fu” in what mainly serves as a bridge to a finale in John Wick: Chapter 3.

It was only three years ago that moviegoers handed John Wick director Chad Stahelski an $89 million hit for his $20 million project. Reeves, Stahelski, and writer Derek Kolstad wisely stuck with the same creative equation for their sequel — cool cars, cool clothes, cool guns and a slew of martial arts — and the end result is similarly satisfying. The reuniting of Reeves and Matrix co-star Laurence Fishburne may be worth the price of admission alone for film junkies.

John Wick: Chapter 2 takes place shortly after the events of the first film, whereas the hitman has avenged the death of his dog (a gift from his late wife), and once again tries to fade into obscurity. That does not last long because mobster Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) demands that Mr. Wick honor a contract killing request made nonnegotiable by a signed blood pact. The assassin is in a Catch 22, since reneging on the contract or performing the hit on D’Antonio’s powerful sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini) both will continue the cycle of violence.

In short, Wick opts to hold up his end of the bargain and survives a double-cross by D’Antonio due to a bulletproof suit and heavy-duty weaponry provided by “The Sommelier” (Peter Serafinowicz). A giant contract is put out on Wick’s life by D’Antonio, and nearly every assassin in New York is out for blood. Making matters worse is Cassian (Common), the revenge-hungry bodyguard of Wick’s last target, and the quick-fisted female bodyguard Ares (Ruby Rose).

Without giving away any  spoilers, John Wick: Chapter 2 ends shortly after an homage to  Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon. The assassin establishes that he is done playing by the community’s code of conduct, which ends the threat by D’Antonio while setting up an even bloodier finale (if that’s possible) in John Wick Chapter 3.

Critics of this series have said that it condones violence, but that is a specious claim. The message behind all the broken bones and bloody bodies that Mr. Wick piles up from Rome to New York City is that a man cannot use evil means to achieve a good end. Evil begets evil — even when it comes with a silencer.

“The lot of us are rewarded for our misdeeds, which is why God took your wife and unleashed you upon me. This life follows you,” Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist) said in the original film. “It links to you, affecting everyone who comes close to you. We are cursed, you and I.”

“On that, we agree,” Mr. Wick said.

Tarasov’s words echo throughout the sequel, and are likely to reverberate well into John Wick Chapter 3. Keanu Reeves’ latest project is an action movie that has humor and heart mixed with catacombs chases and subway shootouts, and for that it is probably worth checking out before it leaves the big screen.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

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