Sunday, February 12, 2017

Review: John Wick: Chapter Two

Image courtesy of Summit Entertainment.
Those searching for a bit of the old ultraviolence, as Malcolm McDowell once put it, could do much worse than "John Wick: Chapter Two," an orgiastic bloodbath that is low on plot and high on bullets penetrating skulls. It's also skillfully made, willing to crack jokes at its own expense and, oddly enough, visually gorgeous - at least, during its unforgettable set piece finale.

In the first picture, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) was a retired hitman who had been left devastated by the death of his wife. After some punks - who happened to have gangster relatives - broke into Wick's house and killed his beloved dog, the barely emoting killing machine finds himself back in action, wiping out approximately 10 men every five minutes.

As for plot, "Chapter Two" is even more scarce. At the film's beginning, Wick steals back his car and returns home, where he lives with a new pup. But his doorbell rings one night and the son of an Italian mobster is there with a mission for Wick to assassinate a sister who is threatening his place in the criminal underworld.

After he refuses, Wick's house is burnt to the ground and he - having sworn an oath never to turn down a mission, or something like that - agrees to whack the mobster's sister during a music festival in Rome. This, of course, leads to an orgy of violence, where Wick crosses paths with numerous faceless men, who end up with bullets to the head, pencils in the neck and arms snapped over shoulders.

A bevy of villains - a fellow hitman played by rapper Common, a mute woman with a penchant for vicious behavior, a killer who looks like a Sumo wrestler, etc. - join in the hunt for Wick, which ultimately leads him to Laurence Fishburne, who has an army of homeless killers and a roof full of doves. I'll let you process that for a moment.

The film sets up the possibility of a third - and, in all likelihood, even gorier - entry into the series. If the story is wafer thin, then it is the nonstop action that nearly makes up for it. It's an overused expression when referring to action movies, but the numerous shootouts and fight scenes to be found in "John Wick: Chapter Two" almost feel like a ballet - that is to say that they are beautifully and impressively choreographed.

And the picture includes a whopper of an ending during which Wick and a number of villains fight it out in a museum exhibit full of optical illusions, mirrors and rooms of various colors. The film overemphasizes style at the expense of virtually everything else, but it does it so well that it's easy to forgive such shortcomings. For a film of this type, "John Wick: Chapter Two" gets the job done.

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