In John Wick, the character not the incredibly violent movies that bear his name, Keanu Reeves has found the pure essence of, for lack of a better word, Keanuness. Reeves has never been the most expressive actor, his appeal is physical and metaphysical. He can run, jump, shoot and punch with the best of them—that’s the physical part—but at the crux of his performances is a certain otherworldliness that makes him seem slightly detached from it all. He found the right balance in “the Matrix” and again in “John Wick: Chapter 2.”
The Wick movies are set an alternative world of assassins where hit men and women are paid in special coins, stay in exclusive hotels—with killer views no doubt—and speak in a strangely formal way. They see themselves as professionals with a civilized code of conduct… except that there is nothing civilized about the work they do. In the first film Wick was an assassin so tough he didn’t bother to take off his gore-soaked shirt when beginning his bloody quest for vengeance.
The new film picks up shortly after the events of the first. Wick wants a simpler life, away from the violence that has been his business. His retirement plan is disrupted when a former colleague, Santino (Riccardo Scamarcio), asks a favour. Actually, it’s more than a favour, it’s a marker, a promise to repay a debt, and Santino takes it very seriously. Santino’s request is an insidious one; kill my sister so I can take her place on the crime High Table.
“I’m not that guy anymore,” says John. “You are always that guy,” sneers Santino.
Rebuffed, Santino blows up John’s house. To put an end to the impending war Wick agrees to the job. His home a smoldering pile of ash, Wick re-enters his old world. A visit to the gun sommelier—“Can you suggest something big and bold for the end of the night?” he asks.—to a tailor who makes suits lined with tactical fabric and he is ready to square his debt.
(MILD SPOILER) Wick’s plan to return to a quiet life after the job is thwarted by a single phone call. “What kind of man would I be if I didn’t avenge my sister’s murder?” asks Santino. Cue a showdown with bad people with a seemingly endless amount of henchmen for John Wick to kill.
“John Wicks” created a wild world for its characters to inhabit that is unlike anything that came before. The second visit is almost as engaging. Much humour is found between the gunfights as these ruthless killers behave in a courtly way when not trying to bash one another’s brains out. It’s funny, but know this, it also very violent. Wick is a sentimental guy—this whole journey began when someone did something terrible to his beloved dog—but that doesn’t stop him from offing upwards of 140 people in the two hour running time. Much of the violence is goofy but tinged with hardcore Old Testament wrath.
As the man so mysterious he doesn’t even give his new dog a name, Reeves is in his element. It’s pure Keanu, a physical performance with very little dialogue. Think of him as a silent movie action star, an actor who transcends dialogue with sheer charisma. Like him or not, the guy understands how to be on camera, especially when he’s in motion, causing carnage.
Populating Wick’s world are a host of colourful characters brought to vivid life by Laurence Fishburne as the underworld boss of lower Manhattan, Ian McShane as Winston, the man who enforces the rules in the assassin’s twisted world, Common as a gin sipping security boss and Ruby Rose as a deadly and deaf killer.
As a sequel “John Wick: Chapter 2” hits all the right notes. It’s a tad too long but fans of the original will be reminded of why they fell in love with John Wick in the first place.