John Wick was a bit of a surprise hit in 2014. Directed by Chad Stahelski, who had been a stunt performer in the Matrix movies and starring Keanu Reeves, who Stahelski knew had the ability to remember longer chains of stunt moves than most actors – the story was simple and straightforward, and focused on exceptional action. John Wick was a recently retired hitman, who had been so good at his job, he was often referred to as ‘the Boogeyman’. John retired to be with his wife, and soon after, she became sick, and passed away. Knowing she was dying, she arranged to have a puppy delivered to John after the funeral, so that he would have someone to love.
A chance encounter with some young thugs at a gas station leads them to follow him home, kill his puppy, steal his car, and leave him for dead. Since the puppy was the last gift from his wife, John immediately sets out on a mission to eliminate the thugs and everyone they know/work for; regardless to the fact that the leader of the group is the son of a big time Russian mob guy, who is very familiar with John and his work. The movie also introduced us to John’s world of underground assassins and their secret hotels and codes of conduct. The movie ended with John adopting a new dog and heading back home.
The movie was tailored to Keanu’s strengths, and the stunt work was incredible – and after those idiots killed his puppy – it was wildly satisfying to see John eliminate every single one of them.
The sequel picks up five days after the events of the first movie, with John going to get his car from the uncle of the kid from the first movie, killing countless dudes before the opening credits come up.
Once John returns home with his car, and gives it to his mechanic since it is basically destroyed, John receives a visit from Santino D’Antonio, an Italian criminal who is suddenly upset that his sister has inherited their recently deceased father’s seat at the “high table” of the “council”. John says that he’s out, and he doesn’t want the job. Santino brings up that he has a ‘marker’ (remember that awesome Richard Greico show ‘Marker’ from when UPN was a thing?), which John gave to him – since apparently Santino was the one who helped John complete his “impossible task” when John decided to “get out”. John still refuses, and Santino blows up his house – but don’t worry, the dog is okay this time.
John goes to the Continental (the fancy secret assassin hotel) to ask Winston, the manager, for advice, and Winston says he needs to honor the marker, then he can go back to retirement. So John accepts Santino’s job to kill his sister, Gianna, in Rome. We are then treated to a fun montage of John heading to Rome, checking in to the Continental there, getting a new suit, some weapons, and some building plans. He successfully gets to the sister at her “coronation” ceremony – despite the fact that she’s now being bodyguarded by his nemesis from the first movie, Cassian. I won't lie to you - the ceremony really seems to be more of a rave held at some ancient Roman ruins. She realizes what is happening once John appears in her bathroom – which is the fanciest bathroom I have ever seen – and kills herself as opposed to letting him do it.
John starts his escape, but swiftly realizes that Santino has sent his number one henchwoman, Ares, and a tons of guys after him to “tie up loose ends”. Of course, Cassian is also after him to avenge Gianna. John escapes and heads back to New York – but not before Santino takes out a contract on his life for seven million dollars, and sends the details to all the hitmen everywhere. John then has to take out several professional killers before getting a meeting with the Bowery King. The Bowery King has eyes and ears everywhere, making use of undercover spies and tells John where Santino is, so that John can kill him, put an end to this, and finally retire.
John kills another couple dozen of Santino’s henchmen in a modern art exhibit, but Santino manages to escape to the Continental, and then gloat about how he can just stay in there since no one can shed blood on Continental grounds. Spoiler Alert – John just shoots him. Winston is very disappointed, and makes John “excommunicado”, banning him from the Continental and all its amenities. He gives John one hour, but also doubles the bounty – so the movie ends with John and his dog going on the run, with a fourteen million dollar bounty on his head as every assassin in the world gets a text letting them know he’s the target.
Once again, the movie is spectacular action with a fairly straightforward story. John just wants out, and is doing what is necessary to get out. Because of director Chad Stahelski’s extensive stunt background, the stunt work is phenomenal, and I really wish some other directors (looking at you Paul Greengrass) would watch this to see how the fights are shot from a distance away, and with limited cuts – so that you can see the skill of the actors and stunt performers. It makes such a difference, and I really love this style. Yes, the movie is hyper-violent, and yes, there are a ton of headshots, since that is John’s preferred killing method.
- This is definitely Keanu Reeves’s movie - and John Wick is right in his wheelhouse of very little dialogue, and brutal action. Since Stahelski is so familiar with Keanu’s stunt ability, much of the action is tailored to him, and I found myself often impressed that it really is him in almost every scene. If there was double used for Keanu, I could not tell where – but I’m guessing in rolling down the cement stairs. Keanu is fantastic in this – so desperate to leave this life behind that he’s willing to get involved in that very life again with the vaguely haunted look behind his eyes anytime he thinks of his wife. And, thank goodness the dog makes it through this one.
- Riccardo Scamarcio plays Santino D’Antonio – and he’s just slimy and horrible. He shows up all slick and fancy, demanding John’s help, and just descends into pure villainy as the movie progresses.
- Ian McShane is wonderful as Winston – very friendly and respectful to John as long as his rules are followed. And even when John breaks them, he does what he can to give him a headstart.
- Ruby Rose plays Ares, who is mute in this movie, and uses what I’m going to guess is assassin-specific sign language to communicate. She’s just fine, but honestly, her stunt double was pretty obvious, and in a movie that prides itself on the stunt work that was a little distracting.
- Common is back as John’s nemesis Cassian. The fight sequences between the two are outstanding, and seem to be unending.
- Claudia Gerini plays Gianna D’Atonio, and has just the one scene, but that’s a lot of dialogue with John, and enough to make him question why he decided to honor the marker that Santino had instead of just running.
- Lance Reddick is back as Charon, the concierge of the New York Continental. He’s fantastically mysterious and quietly powerful. He also offers to dog-sit for John during his trip to Rome.
- Laurence Fishburne plays the Bowery King, and really – like I said, is not all that helpful. I think he’s here just so that fans of the Matrix get to see the two of them onscreen together again. Which – I’ll admit – was pretty great. Fishburne does chew all the scenery around him as he wanders around with a little white pigeon.
- John Leguizamo shows up again as Aurelio – John’s mechanic. He’s there to provide some comic relief early on.
- Peter Stomare has basically a cameo in this, his fourth movie with Keanu (Constantine, Henry’s Crime, Swedish Dicks) as the brother of the Russian mob guy from the first movie. Honestly, their scene together in Constantine was so good that I was really happy to see him here, however briefly.
Overall, the action is amazing, the story is interesting, but I really wanted him to be able to retire happily at the end! Oh well, here’s hoping that’s the planned end for Chapter 3.
8 out of 10. Gained points for the dog making it this time, and for a Peter Serafinowicz cameo.
Bonus - Marker - I loved this show.