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John Wick: Chapter 2

(2017) *** R
122 min. Summit Entertainment. Director: Chad Stahelski. Cast: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Peter Stormare, Common.

/content/films/5033/1.jpgMore money looks good on John Wick. The lean 2014 action thriller starring Keanu Reeves couldn’t let its imagination run wild if it wanted to, given its $20 million budget. No one’s saying (at least not yet) how much John Wick: Chapter 2 cost, but every penny’s on the screen for a wilder ride that proves more captivating while staying true to—and happily expanding—the world established in the first film.

The first film was a grotty and dour revenge thriller about an assassin who just wants to be left alone, graced with a witty notion of an ornate criminal underworld but allowing only a minimum of fun. Reassembling the same creative team of director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad, Chapter 2 makes the case for the Wick franchise as a kind of bizarro James Bond. Instead of “shaken not stirred” martinis, Wick’s poison is straight bourbon. But the two share a taste for well-tailored suits (in Wick’s case, live-saving ones) and lethal weaponry doled out by attentive armorers. As Ian McShane’s hotelier Winston puts it, “John Wick is a man of focus, commitment, and sheer fucking will.”

This antihero may not be licensed to kill, but now he lives in a similarly slick universe of action fantasy and exotic settings. The stylistic pivot doesn’t renounce the first film, but rather amplifies its best qualities while allowing for a broader entertainment. So there will be “gun fu” and demolition derbies. Wick and his dog with no name ostensibly want a peaceful retirement, but that darn criminal code keeps roping him in, this time by way of a nasty Italian mobster (Riccardo Scamarcio) who still holds a blood-oath marker demanding Wick’s services.

The grim mission takes Wick to Rome, where we learn that the first film’s Continental (Winston’s New York domain) is only one of a chain of hotels catering to criminals. Soon, Wick’s on the run with a $7 million bounty on his head and Wick’s desired peace—if indeed it’s achievable at all, given his emotional baggage (most notably his late wife)—looking like it’s a long, long way off. That’s especially apparent in the way Chapter Two tees up a foregone Chapter Three (and if Summit Entertainment has its way, there’ll be no stopping there).

Though essentially empty, the never-dull John Wick: Chapter Two makes for a primally satisfying action movie, propelled along with expertly choreographed ballets of death that nod to John Woo in their virtuosity. The sky high body count (disconcertingly attended by audience guffaws and cheers) piles up with brutal efficiency: even more so than three years ago, the action here is slickly filmed and edited to spin heads. Reeves sells these fights brilliantly, and offers a magnetic, subtle performance in repose. Granted, a man of few words suits Reeves’s skillset, but he’s earned this late-career franchise by putting in smart, hard work at its center.

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