Movie Review: “John Wick 2,” with Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Common, and Ruby Rose
There is this moment in John Wick 2 that tells you everything you need to know about the title character, played with single-minded, impressively steely focus by Keanu Reeves, one of My Future Husbands. It’s a small scene in a movie full of excellent ones, but amid all the amazing action sequences boggling your mind, this is a glimpse into Wick’s interior life—an understanding of the man inside the perfectly tailored suit with all the stylish guns.
Now, to be fair, you probably know everything you truly need to know about John Wick from the mind-boggingly good 2014 film, but it’s this particular scene in John Wick 2, about midway through the film, that reinforces the kind of guy this is. He’s cornered the person he’s being paid to kill. He lets them know what’s about to happen. Things don’t quite as he planned. And in the last moments of that person’s life, he holds their hand as they die—and then shoots them in the head for good measure.
Wick will provide you with a moment of compassion, but he’ll also finish the job. He is horrendously efficient and terrifyingly good at killing people—with guns, with knives, with cars, and especially with his own two hands—but his own experience of loss has affected how he interacts with others going through the same thing, even when that person is mourning the impending end of their own life at Wick’s command. Let us never forget that the entire premise of John Wick begins with life cruelly, unnecessarily taken, with a wife’s time stolen by disease and a puppy’s potential ended by Theon Greyjoy, that goddamn idiot. John Wick knows everything there is to know about dying. Just like Maeve in Westworld, he’s fucking great at it.
John Wick 2 picks up almost immediately after the first John Wick ended, with the assassin who is, in fact, back, tracking down his beloved car and using it to smash to bits the Russian gangsters who continue coming after him. As in, he literally keeps driving his car into people. Peter Stormare’s face when he realizes that Wick has arrived to reclaim his Mustang Cobra is a thing of beauty, a slack-jawed acceptance of the devastation and bloodshed that he is powerless to stop.
Wick being back in the game, even if to exact revenge against Reek, Reek, It Rhymes with Weak, changes things—and Stormare’s character isn’t the only one who knows it. Word has also reached Santino D’Antonio (played by Riccardo Scamarcio, who curiously looks exactly like a young Javier Bardem), who engineered Wick’s prior retirement; now that Wick is active again, Santino wants a favor. And because of the sort of blood oath that Wick agreed to when Santino coordinated his retirement, he owes the preening Italian crime lord—and just for good measure, D’Antonio destroys Wick’s gorgeous home to underscore the point. Wick will do this final job for Santino, or Wick will be disgraced among the assassin community he’s lived in for so long. And in this world, where Wick has been known for years as Baba Yaga—the boogeyman—to renege on a promise would look very bad indeed.
So Wick gets pulled again into what he thought he left behind: consulting Winston (Ian McShane), the owner of the assassins’ Continental hotel, for advice; traveling to Rome for his assignment; striding into the backroom of a sweatshop to have his measurements taken for a new suit; meeting with the Sommelier (excellently played by Peter Serafinowicz, having a grand old time), who hooks him up with some new guns while throwing around wine terms in an extended gag that I could have watched for two more hours. And all the while, he’s trailed by Santino’s personal bodyguard, Ares (Ruby Rose), who keeps her eyes on him, the implied threat clear—if he doesn’t do the job just right, he’ll have to answer to her.
In a loose way, John Wick 2 recreates some of the setpieces from its predecessor, but it does pursue the “bigger, bloodier, louder” vibe that so many sequels do. Wick seems to kill something like a bajillion people, and the shootouts are longer, more ruthless; you’ll get weirdly used to brain splatter after about 30 minutes. A chase through an Italian mansion’s catacombs is an insane whirlwind of perspectives and long takes; a final fight in an art installation that is essentially a house of mirrors is thrillingly vicious. If there’s one flaw, it’s that some of the original John Wick’s gracefulness seems sacrificed for extended sequences that prioritize the body count above all else, but still, this is a movie that trusts Keanu to step up, to throw around his body and exert his physicality over nearly everyone else. He does a damn fine job.
What I wanted at the end of John Wick 2 was more—more of Common, who plays an assassin that clearly has history with Wick and who seems to be the only character who can really go toe-to-toe with him; more of Laurence Fishburne, who plays the Bowery King, a character who organizes what seems like an army of informants all over New York City; more of the mythology and the world-building that these films have done so well. Luckily for all of us, it seems like a John Wick 3 is in the works—perhaps after Keanu and I take our honeymoon. We are very busy people.