Stunt supervisor-turned-director Chad Stahelski’s 2014 sleeper hit John Wick rested on a preposterous premise: a retired hitman slaughtered the equivalent of the population of a small town to avenge his dog’s death. The beautifully shot and superbly choreographed violence bludgeoned audiences into submission.
Not much has changed in John Wick: Chapter Two. Wick (Keanu Reeves) still has a preference for funereal black attire. Weaponry is a phone call away. Wick doesn’t talk much. But he does have a new dog, one with no name.
Of course, no one is willing to let Wick retire in peace. He is forced to come back for the proverbial last job because he owes a favour to Italian crime lord Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio). Once he completes his mission, D’Antonio conveniently betrays Wick so that the retired hitman can cut to the chase and go on an-all out rampage.
The cast features a mix of European and American actors, all of whom have vaguely Russian accents, the inflection of choice when it comes to suggesting evil in Hollywood. Winston (Ian McShane) and Charon (Lance Reddick) return, respectively, as the owner and manager of the Continental Hotel. MTV VJ-turned actor Ruby Rose makes a star turn as Ares, a mute security assassin and the head of D’Antonio’s security force, as do legendary Italian actor Franco Nero and Laurence Fishburne, who looks like he has walked off the sets of The Matrix.
An intriguing aspect of the original film was the labyrinthine nature of the underworld’s functioning, its unwritten rules and codes of honour. The sequel goes deeper into the underbelly of the European-American crime syndicate. The film reimagines the world as a fantasy in which almost everyone – from a violinist at the subway to the homeless guy near a park bench – is either an assassin or a criminal.
While the body count is higher than the original, the proceedings are more leisurely paced. The real star of the film remains Reeves’s face, which becomes bloodied and riddled with cuts and yet remains completely imperceptible. It suggests a rich inner life and aids the plot’s philosophical pretensions.