JOHN WICK CHAPTER TWO: After reinforcing the idea in the first movie that you never mess with a man’s car or dog, the ultraviolent, canine loving, widower assassin (Keanu Reeves) has “unretired” again to create more cinematic carnage. I’m glad to say that the new “mutt” lives through this adrenaline rush, blood-spattered pulp highlighted by even more of Darrin Prescott’s Hong Kong style stunt choreography that never once wears out its welcome. Highlights include a shootout at a techno concert, a chase through an art gallery of mirrors reminiscent of a similar sequence in Orson Welles’ THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1948) and an intense knife fight aboard a moving subway that’s one of the best close quarter brawls since Sean Connery and Robert Shaw “duked it out” in a passenger train cabin in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963). Derek Kolstad’s violent yet witty screenplay is a fairly minimal one where the title character goes back to work to pay off a debt to an Italian mobster (Riccard Scamarcio) wanting to seize control of a shadowy guild of hired killers. But what really raises this movie above standard nihilistic violent fare is the storyline tied to the code of conduct, ethics and etiquette established among persons who are basically evil or lowlifes. Breach the laws of their “union” and you become hunted and permanently marked for death. This really drives the film as does the excellent direction by former stuntman Chad Stahelski and the frenetic musical soundtrack from Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard. Reeves’ (SPEED) economy with words is played to the hilt and there’s very interesting ensemble casting of Common (SELMA), Laurence Fishburne (THE MATRIX), Ian McShane (HERCULES) and “spaghetti western” star Franco Nero (DJANGO UNCHAINED) who all make a mark in their scenes. This is one of those rare instances where a follow-up movie surpasses its predecessor which was pretty good, too. Since the conclusion is ripe for a future CHAPTER 3, the collective reaction should be “bring it on”. CRITIC’S GRADE: A-
CLOSING CREDITS: If art imitates life, actor Keanu Reeves may be a near perfect match to play the brooding, “still grieving for his late wife” John Wick. When Reeves was three, his father deserted the family. Reeves struggled in school with dyslexia and even though he never graduated from high school, he’s an avid reader. In 1993, his best friend actor River Phoenix (STAND BY ME) died from a drug overdose. Six years later, Reeves and his pregnant wife, Jennifer Syme, lost their child which was stillborn. The couple were torn apart by their daughter’s death and Syme was killed eighteen months later in a car wreck. Despite these heartaches, Reeves is regarded as one of “the nicest guys in Hollywood” and has given hundreds of millions to charitable causes and the production crews he’s worked with on his movies.