Movie Review: John Wick Chapter Two
By Ben Gruchow
February 16, 2017
In a universe predicated on professional courtesy among indestructible assassins, D’Antonio remains stubbornly insolent; he double-crosses John and puts out a lucrative contract on his life across all of New York, which spurs a back half where were never quite sure which passersby are or are not trained killers. That's one way to thank a man for a favor, I guess, especially one who’s displayed unfathomable skill and motivation in causing grievous harm to all who cross him and could have easily been recording your sororicidal goals for playback to the High Table themselves. With that kind of foresight, though, we would then be deprived of the presence of Chapter 2’s rogues’ gallery, including Common as a fellow assassin and Gianna’s ward, and Ruby Rose (for the third time in this young year) as D’Antonio’s right-hand accomplice Ares.
Rose is a charismatic actress even in dreck, but this film has her play mute and challenge her to communicate her character with gaze and gesture, and she's thrilling to watch. She has the physicality and presence of an Angelina Jolie, and this time we're actually able to see her. The apotheosis in new cast additions for this sequel, as the trailer has helpfully spoiled for us, is Laurence Fishburne as an old associate of Wick’s, in a manner of speaking. Fishburne is only in the movie for a couple of scenes, and he’s transparently there to give us an unofficial reunion between Neo and Morpheus, but few actors sell a parting command of, “Please someone get this man a gun!” with such gleeful, cat-like anticipation as Fishburne does here. His scenes also provide a momentary respite from the action sequences bookending them, one which is almost languorous in its pacing.
Oh, but now we come to the action sequences. These are played, like the story, with most of the same developments that we’ve seen in spy and assassin movies countless times before…but seldom have any of them executed those moments this well, this consistently. Director Chad Stahelski adopts a style that is not precisely Eastern or Western in influence; he knows the beauty of good stunt work well enough to back off with the camera and simply let the performers act through their choreography in protracted takes, but he also has an affinity for striking, symmetrical movement and precise blocking. The gunfight sequences in this film may number one or two too many - even I began to fidget halfway through the movie’s big climactic sequence, set in an art museum that will absolutely have trouble finding a willing insurer after this movie’s events - but Stahelski at least finds a way to frame the waves of anonymous bad guys in ways that make their entry and often-rapid exit visually interesting, usually having them in the foreground, John reacting to them a split-second before they’re visible. On a strict technical basis, the hand-to-hand and gunfight sequences in this film are the best in years: beautifully staged and lit and paced. Violent, yes (we are well and truly into R territory almost from the first scene), but never exploitative.
That is, ultimately, all the movie really has in its arsenal; I’ve already mentioned that the story and dialogue are merely passengers in a fast and aggressive and well-designed vehicle. As good as the movie is, there is the sense that a better one underneath some of the routine byplay: one where Wick’s psychology is given a fuller exploration than what we get here, without losing the film’s athleticism or its moments of levity. “Whoever comes, I’ll kill them all,” I paraphrase from John in one particularly consequential moment of dialogue, and we realize that most of the deeper shadings of this character are ones we must bring to it. Still, this is by almost any metric a well-crafted action thriller, one that will satisfy its intended audience and most newcomers. I find myself compelled to see the first film to get another excursion into this world, and that’s a high compliment to pay to a sequel.
3.5 out of 5