Stars: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Common, Claudia Gerini, Lance Reddick, Laurence Fishburne, Tobias Segal, John Leguizamo | Written by Derek Kolstad | Directed by Chad Stahelski
2014′s John Wick took pretty much everyone by surprise. The third in a trilogy of action movies Keanu Reeves made in 2013/4, John Wick succeeded where 47 Ronin and The Man of Tai Chi (in which Reeves played the villain) didn’t. And that’s not to say that either of those films were sub-par, far from it. However there was something about the stoic, unstoppable hitman John Wick that resonated with audiences across the globe. And so three years later we finally get a sequel.
From the same writer/director team as the first film, Derek Kolstad and Chad Stahelski respectively, John Wick Chapter 2 picks up where the first film left off. Literally. John heads back to the gang who stole his car – beating up an army of hard men before declaring peace with Peter Stormare’s gangster boss Abram… Thinking Wick is free to live a peaceful life again, audiences are left to wonder just how and why Wick is going to be back in action once more. The answer doesn’t take long.
Building on the “assassin network” mythology from the first movie, John Wick Chapter 2 uses this mythology to force Wick back into action. You see, the hitman fraternity apparently has rules: one of which is that “all markers must be honoured”. And what do you know, discovering that Wick came out of retirement to avenge his dog (in the first film) someone wants to call in a marker and essentially FORCE Wick to do his bidding! Big mistake.
In the middle of a power struggle for a seat at the High Table, a council of international criminals, Italian mobster Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) calls in his marker, a debt that Wick owed when he asked for D’Antonio’s help to “retire”. For D’Antonio’s sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini), was willed her seat when their father died and, greedy mobster that he is, he wants it for himself and orders Wick to kill her. Of course bad guys being bad guys, D’Antonio double-crosses Wick and orders a hit on him for Gianna’s death! Another big mistake.
The one thing you’ll notice about Chad Stahelski’s film is that it has a a real European feel to it, and that’s not just because of the location… The cast is truly international, including a number of well-known Italian actors in particular: Franco Nero who still, despite his age, looks like he could kill with just a look; then there’s Claudia Gerini, star of neo-Giallo (and a personal favourite) Tulpa, as crime boss Gianna D’Antonio – who shares one on the most intimate and sexually charged scenes with Wick. In fact there’s an air of Hostel Part II‘s bathing sequence in Gerini’s scene, which – FYI – has been censored here in the UK for ratings purposes. In so much that, as she converses with John Wick about his role in her impending death, the scene is simultaneously erotic, deadly and dangerous.
Mixing the tropes of horror, in particular gothic euro-horror, in with the action is totally inspired and just one of the reasons why John Wick Chapter 2 feels so different from any other US action movie. That and the fact the action is reminiscent of the early work of European action filmmaker extraordinaire Luc Besson, during his Gaumont years (before Besson and co. Americanised their films after founding Europa Corp). Think Leon, Nikita and Taxi, rather than Taken and The Transporter.
The real interesting aspect of this franchise though is seeing how each chapter in the story of John Wick has upped the ante – the first was set in the US and saw Wick take on one, admittedly large, gang. John Wick Chapter 2 sees Wick go to Europe and take on a ridiculous amount of hitmen (and women). If the third lives up to the promise of those final, ominous words between Keanu Reeves’ hitman and Ian McShane’s boss Winston, then the third, final(?) film in the series could possibly be the biggest, baddest INTERNATIONAL action movie we see in decades… For now we’ll just have to live with this immensely satisfying action spectacle.
John Wick Chapter 2 is in cinemas across the UK now.