By: Kevin Jordan
Murder, death, kill.
It’s been two and a half years since John Wick murdered scores of people over a dead dog and stolen car and I still don’t understand how that movie scored an 85% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It was easily one of the worst written movies of 2014 that somehow got a complete pass because of action scenes that were one take instead of 84 million (a.k.a. the Michael Bay). I get the reason why regular American audience members liked the movie – action, kill, death, action, Mustang, blood splatters, action, death. There’s a reason why the NFL is the most popular thing in this country and that fights are the most talked about part of hockey. We loves us some bloody violence. So of course Summit Entertainment was going to make a John Wick 2, especially when John Wick grossed $80 million on a $20 million budget. I just don’t get how critics weren’t foaming at the mouth at a movie with far less plot than a high school graduation ceremony.
Going into the sequel, I wanted two things to happen in the film – 1) explain anything in this mystical underground assassin world and 2) have something resembling a plot.
(Note: This is the point where I would generally give you the obligatory SPOILER WARNING, but there’s nothing to spoil. The title alone tells you John Wick won’t die in this film because it’s Chapter 2 and not The Final Chapter. You also know he’s going to kill somewhere in the neighborhood of an entire neighborhood because this would be a weird sequel if he didn’t.)
The movie opens with more of the same dumb shit that littered the entire first film. The uncle (Peter Stormare) of the Russian dog murderer has John Wick’s car and John (Keanu Reeves) has come for it. Here’s the conversation between the uncle and a henchman (paraphrasing):
Henchman: “What’s this guy want?”
Uncle: “We have his car.”
Henchman: “Why don’t we just kill him?”
Uncle: “It’s John Wick’s car.”
Henchman (with disconcerted look): “So…just send more guys.”
Uncle: “He’s the boogeyman. Did you hear about the pencil? He once killed three guys with nothing but a pencil. Who does that!?”
Henchman: “Why don’t we just give him his car back.”
Uncle: “Because he killed my nephew.”
Oh, so you’re going to make the same dumbass mistake as your brother? The one who ended up getting himself and all of his men killed even though he spent half the movie talking about how John Wick made a Terminator cower inside the actual boogeyman’s vagina? At least the brother was trying to save his son (even though he threatened to kill his son himself). Just give him back his car. Or are you just looking for a quick way to replace your workforce?
Thankfully, this movie has a plot, though one that quickly devolves back into John Wick getting revenge again. Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) calls on John to fulfill a promise John made in the form of a “marker” containing John’s bloody fingerprint. The marker is essentially an I.O.U. that can be redeemed for anything. In this case, Santino wants John to kill his sister, Gianna (Claudia Gernin), so Santino can take over her seat at “the high table.” What is the high table you ask? Beats the hell out of me. Like the first film, this movie introduces new concepts of the assassin world and never bothers to explain what they are or mean. All we know is the table has twelve seats and Gianna controls New York City maybe? John initially refuses, stating that “no seriously, it is literally impossible.” Santino leaves John’s house, then blows it up in retaliation for John’s refusal. Here we go again, right?
Well, not quite so fast. John goes to the Continental hotel (the safe-haven from the first flick) to consult with Winston (Ian McShane). Winston says those are the rules and that John is lucky Santino didn’t just outright kill him. Of course, Santino needed John’s help, so blowing up John’s house with John still in there seems like a bad way to change John’s mind, especially if he’s dead. Whatever – the point is that Winston tells John to nut up and honor the marker.
You know that impossible task I just mentioned? Well, turns out it wasn’t so much impossible as it was Hitman on novice level. Literally as soon as John completes the task, Santino’s men and head henchwoman, Ares (Ruby Rose), attempt to kill John because Santino says he must avenge Gianna’s death. Huh? Isn’t that against the arbitrary assassin rules of the Continental? Whatever – the point is that the rest of the movie is John exacting revenge on Santino. The only difference between the rest of this movie and the first movie is that there isn’t a James-Bond-villain-leaving-the-laser-room scene involved. Just lots and lots (and lots) of death.
On the positive side of this movie, there are better looks at this underground assassin world that don’t leave you scratching your head in confusion. Remember the dead-body cleaning crew that shows up at John’s house in the first movie right after the cops literally see the bodies and walk away? That crew was pointless because John could have thrown the bodies into a wood chipper on his front lawn and the cops would have helped him. This time, there is a standard “gearing up” scene in which John goes to an arms provider and they have an absurd, but fun exchange where John is ordering his gear as if he is ordering food, at one point saying “and I’ll have some dessert as well.” The marker was also another good component of this world that gets a full treatment instead of a cursory mention. Finally, we are shown a 1940’s-style operating room where tattooed women plug in those old telephone cords on switchboards, utilize pneumatic tubes, and operate an 1980-era computer to communicate hit contracts to all the assassins. The room doesn’t actually matter to the plot or movie at all, but somebody had some fun spending money on that set.
That’s not to say they don’t pile on more unexplained world stuff. Besides the high table, we are introduced to Laurence Fishburne’s homeless spy network that might be as powerful as the Continental (which is a world-wide chain, by the way), or just a bunch of homeless assassins indebted to a crazy pigeon guy, or some sort of rebel faction within the assassin world. We also learn that pretty much everyone in New York City is really an assassin, even the mother feeding her baby on a park bench. And, we still have no idea what the hierarchy of this whole world looks like. You’re right – who cares when you get to watch John perform another pencil trick.
In order to enjoy this movie (and the last), you really do have to ignore everything for the action, which isn’t that hard to do. Somehow, Reeves’ acting got even worse, though the director and writer share a lot of that blame. I’m pretty sure Reeves’ dialogue does not include a sentence longer than one word (you’ll see what I mean). The movie continues the awful multicolored subtitles that even Michael Bay has never stooped to and he gave us racist transformers. And definitely don’t try to understand Santino’s motivation because they don’t explain anything about that guy. He’s just that kid at Thanksgiving dinner that is throwing a tantrum about not getting to eat at the adult table, even if he presumably has all the cake he could ever want. Just sit back and enjoy some good old-fashioned, American ultra-violence. What else are you going to do now that football season is over? Read?
Rating: Ask for seven dollars back. It satisfies your need for dumb action flick and that’s all you can ask for in mid-February.