The average movie theater can hold 200 to 300 people. If everyone tracked the body count in “John Wick: Chapter 2”, it would take about an hour before they all ran out of fingers and toes. This go for broke, ramped up to eleven, ultra-violent sequel to 2014’s cult favorite “John Wick” is a two hour blur of bullets, blood, and Keanu Reeves as smolderingly cool as he’s ever been.
The first installment of this future trilogy introduced us to John Wick (Reeves), a retired hit man who took out an entire New York Russian crime family because one of them stole his car and killed his puppy. “Chapter 2” begins with the always fantastic Peter Stormare as another Russian mobster summarizing that as John systematically destroys his chop shop. This opening sequence is just a taste of what’s to follow and the stunt driving is dizzying.
From there, the movie begins to set up a mythology that involves a worldwide syndicate of hit men. One of them, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), helped John leave the hit man life to be with his now deceased wife (Bridget Moynahan, seen only in flashbacks) and John owes him a “blood oath.” Needless to say, things do not go well when John rejects his request.
After checking in with Winston (a brilliant Ian McShane), John realizes he has no choice and must do Santino’s bidding. The job takes him to Rome, where he must assassinate Santino’s sister, Gianna (Claudia Gerini), who is set to take a seat on what is essentially Earth’s hit man board of directors.
Since nothing is easy for John, he eventually finds himself with a $7 million bounty on his head and every assassin on the planet hunting him down. His return to New York finds John under constant attack from every angle and features some very unique ways in which John dispatches his attackers.
Among those attackers is Cassian (Common), who is Gianna’s chief bodyguard. A sequence that takes place on a subway platform is equal parts intense and subtly hilarious as these two men try to murder each other in inconspicuous ways. The hand to hand combat that occurs in a cramped subway car is visceral and the stunt work from Reeves and Common is impeccable.
There’s no doubt that director Chad Stahelski wanted to ramp up not only the action, but also the world building. The script from Derek Kolstad has turned John Wick into a global man of action and this seedy underbelly of worldwide assassins he and Stahelski have created has given a character previously hellbent only on revenge a fully fleshed out sandbox to play in.
The coolest aspect of “Chapter 2” is that you are never lost in the action. Whether it takes place in a New York museum or in the catacombs beneath Rome, there’s never a loss of geography. The close ups of the action clearly show Reeves is doing the majority of the stunt work, only making the work of this now 52-year old actor that much more impressive.
Look, Keanu Reeves is probably never going to win an Oscar. He’ll never be regarded as an actor that easily pivots from action megastar to thought-provoking drama. However, there simply are not many actors that can pull off the suave coolness required to play a hitman that audiences feel sympathy towards. As John Wick, he’s a man of few words, but Reeves’ steely eyed growl gives those words conviction and his portrayal of a once evil man with newfound purpose gives him the role he was born to play.
A few other actors such as John Leguizamo and Laurence Fishburne pop up to offer some comic relief. Also, Ruby Rose is fantastic as a mute killer that follows John around the world to make sure he fulfills his “blood oath.”
“John Wick: Chapter 2” is an unashamed action banger that is a complete blast to watch. Even the preposterous moments are excusable simply because it’s all created to perfection. This is perhaps one of the most violent movies ever made, but because Reeves portrays John so perfectly, it’s total fun.
And don’t worry. All puppy dogs make it out unscathed in the end. John Wick Chapter Two come on Digital HD now and 4K, Blu-ray and DVD the 27th.