On watching John Wick: Chapter 2, twice
This is not a review, not because it comes late, but because it is a simpleton singing praises
“John is a man of focus. Commitment. Sheer will.”
So, if he has to do something it is done; if you are in the way, you won’t be after you meet him. He is good at close range combat, guns, knives, and with the three of them together. Once in the movie when he goes to Rome, a person asks him if he is after The Pope. This is John Wick.
John Wick is played by Keanu Reeves who had already dealt with falling elevators, speeding buses, bullets, evil spirits, and much more. With all this in mind, right after you are given a storyline, you have the film’s story: [someone has to be killed] and someone is killed.
Then what makes John Wick: Chapter Two a great movie? The action, style, and of course, Reeves. For the ones who have seen the first part, there is still the car to be recovered; more knowledge to be gained of the queer world of mob bosses, assassins, and the people who make businesses out of them, and most importantly to know if John can stay retired? These are mere plot points. John Wick: Chapter 2 cares very less about having a story, though it exists, it is optimally as thin as it can be.
The first part had John serving his revenge for killing his dog and stealing his car in the first act; followed by killing the rest who were after him, for doing what he did in the first act. By the end of the movie, he adopts a dog and takes him home. And I watched this film thrice.
Chapter Two starts with John ruthlessly taking out a member of a mob in the busy evening roads of New York as he drives to the Russian mob’s warehouse. The warehouse is being evacuated. A subordinate, being the audience’s voice, asks the obvious question as to why they are relocating. The Russian boss (Peter Stormare as) Abram Tarasov gives an introduction of John Wick: the character, a quick run-through of the first part, and tells him that the warehouse has John’s stolen car in its inventory and that John might be there anytime to recover it. He also tells the famous legend about John, in which he killed three men in a bar with just pencil.
“I can assure you that the stories about this man — if nothing else — have been watered down.”
So, it was only logical for Abram, to relocate their operation area before John drops by. But since it is the opening of the film, John does come before they empty the place. He takes down the first few guys in stealth: using bare hands, ropes, and gun barrels. By the time he reaches his Mustang ‘69 and starts it, there are bullets ricocheting around, so he stops minding to keep the sound low. Abram waits in his room petrified, listening to the sound of bullets and his men wincing and dying. We get to see a fine and ruthless one-on-many action sequence, which ends smoothly with John sharing some of Abram’s whiskey.
The retired assassin John Wick lives in a beautiful modern mansion with his dog. An associate from his old times, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), pays John a visit at his mansion. He asks him for a favor, which John can’t turn down, as there is a blood oath involved. But he turns it down anyway, and in-turn has his house exploded by Santonio to stress the importance of the oath and the favor. John has no choice but to take on the mission.
He goes to Rome for the mission. And being John, he finishes it. At the end of which he has almost every assassin from their (under)world looking to kill him, as there is a heavy bounty on his head. This is shown in an excellent series of cross-cuts where a few killers are shown receiving the information of bounty, John crossing them, them trying to take John down, and then John finishing them off. Though not an elaborately tricky technique, the stunts are highly diverse, set in a distinct locations, and has a motley of killers after Wick: a sumo-wrestler sized Asian who won’t die easy, two cleaners from a railway station, a begging violinist with a pistol hidden in her violin, an office worker immersed in his phone. And every place happens to be highly contrasting in color and lighting. When the shots are shuffled and John loses hand, gains, misses, gets overpowered, and overpowers them it is a treat to watch. It is beautifully executed and makes the audience wait on multiple (of course, similar) life or death results at the same time. As a token of appreciation for the minutes of tension, the audience is put through, John reenacts the famous pencil story in this sequence (some might find this a bit too gory).
In the full length of the movie, John is shown more of an expert killer than an expert marksman; it is not easy to see him kill anyone more than two meters away. This, of course, gives way to gruesome actions and imagery; there is a good amount of blood shed by both parties: John Wick and the rest of the world. The henchmen get into the frame and get killed by John with the bullet, knife, the gun barrel, or with his hands. When it is not a bullet, he puts one inside the skull (if there is any left) anyway, as he doesn’t have the time to check the pulse and plenty more people to kill.
Sometimes, one may feel weary of the continuous killings as the henchmen keep getting into the frame and get shot, without ever showing their face before they leave the frame (and the world). If hundred of your distant relatives were in John Wick: Chapter Two, as henchmen, you might see one or two of their faces. But considering the bigger picture, following only John, and without minding our distant relatives, it is easy to see a beautiful choreography in those sequences. John seems very real; except for his infinite stamina, unbelievable sharpness, and dashing looks. The fights try to be real as well; quite often we see men almost getting John. (Almost!)
Apart from the regular henchmen, we have the two generals: Ruby Rose as Ares, Santino’s mute right hand; and Common as Cassian, a loyal bodyguard of the person John kills in Rome. Rose is active, and her being mute with the steely fonted subtitle for sign language are great to watch; but sadly she is not given a fair share of action, and John doesn’t seem to be particularly troubled by her, even at her only duel with him.
However, the loyal Cassian has three proper one-on-one John Wick encounters. They are markedly distinct from one another and are ferocious and stylish at the same time. They always start with long stares, like a Mexican stand-off; maybe John and Cassian know how good the other guy is, and it is always a math problem when they are around. The action sequences are like an orchestrated symphony on a chessboard when they catch up. They are elaborately dramatic: silenced gun shots as they walk down aisles parallelly, but at different altitudes; finding each other opposite a fountain, and shooting through only when the water is up and obstructing the view, to surprise the other; the slow closing-in inside a crowded rail coach as the crowd reduces with each stop—all of this swells up to incredibly close gunshots and then compulsorily to bare hand/knife fights. Although the movie by itself doesn’t progressively seem to swell up to the best of the action sequence at the climax.
The dialogues are mostly short and sporadic. The film packs a good number of punches, which could have been cheesy if Reeves wasn’t delivering it or it wasn’t pointed at John. The film, of course, relies heavily on Keanu Reeves, but both—everything other than the personality of Reeves and the personality of Reeves—cannot independently or with some other replacement make John Wick: Chapter 2, a wonderful movie. It is very clear on-screen that everyone who worked on the movie wanted it to be a work of art than just a heavy on adrenaline entertainment (which of course it also is) to anyone who shares their love for action.