I am not a fan of action films especially current ones. I’ve got an affinity for 80’s absurd action films featuring all the muscle bound actors we’ve come to know and love and films that revel in the insanity of cartoon like violence like those of Robert Rodriguez. My biggest problem with action films is with all the giant set pieces and explosions I don’t care at all about the stakes because the characters within have no qualities that interest me. For me Keanu Reeves had one franchise I truly cared about and that was Bill and Ted. While a good guy, Reeves hadn’t turned in a good performance since the Matrix and even that was tenuous. I feel every actor just needs a good director that gets how they operate. Enter stunt coordinators Chad Stahelski and David Leitch whom worked with Reeves since the Matrix and many other huge action films. Not all the films they worked on we’re good but they were privileged to witness the directing prowess of legendary directors such as Kathryn Bigelow, John Carpenter and Sylvestor Stalone, action directors who understood the importance of character driven action.
Hearing about another Keanu Reeves action movie I could’ve cared less, but a friend forced me into watching it one day and I was enamored by the first 20 minutes of the film. Screenwriter Derek Kolstad pulled a Pixar on me, the directing duo combined with the written material framed a sad and poignant romance and loss that touched me deeply. What really got me was for the first time I believed in Reeves as a character and not himself. Weeping over the loss of his wife and receiving the love of a dog as his wife’s dying gift to him had me in tears. Once that is taken from him his entire persona descends into pure revenge that you the audience member cannot help but revel in every moment he exacts said revenge. I was completely in and what followed was a poetic dance of fighting styles that they themselves told the story of Wick’s past before his wife. Good action should be shot and framed to tell the story of the character committing said actions which Stahelski and Leitch mastered throughout the film telling us not only of the tragedy of loss but of the legend of the Baba Yaga “Boogeyman” whom strikes fear with the very mention of his name. Not only does our title character intrigue, but he is surrounded by a plethora of rich unique characters and set in a world with rules and consequences that carry a lot of weight. My questions with this sequel were can they still make me weep for Wick? Can they still frame an action opera?
Directly following the killing spree of vengeance John Wick enacted upon the Tarasov mafia family, John has tracked down his car to a warehouse owned by Viggo Tarasov’s brother Abram. In a huge bloody battle, Wick regains his car and declares peace with Abram so he can finally truly retire. However a man named Santino D’Antonio who helped John bury his past resurfaces after seeing the destruction John has caused and offers him a job. Santino wishes to rise to power in the criminal world but can only do so after the death of his older sister. John refuses to take the job even though he has a marker, blood oath, with Santino that must be paid due to what Santino did for him in the past. Santino forces John to come back into the fold as John wishes only to complete this task so he can get back to a life outside of the assassination game.
The first fifteen or twenty minutes feels like a giant deleted action sequence from the first film as John completely obliterates an entire chop shop operation run by Abram whose played by Peter Stormare in his eccentric Stormare fashion. I’m not one to use edge of your seat but I will say I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen at the crazed choreographed carnage of steel on steel and bone crunch. Once that sequence from hell ends, John returns home with his busted up car and his new dog, literally burying his past back into the ground. When Santino shows up into the picture there is such unease in the scenery. As there was juxtaposition in the feeling of the first part of the first John Wick likening to a drama as the second half felt like it descended into an action movie through tonal shifts, you feel like the action film has invaded the drama in part two. In the scenes within John’s house, Santino’s arrival signals there is no return to normalcy for John’s life and that feeling permeates the movie. I was worried that as a sequel we wouldn’t be getting any weight like the original carried but that emotional weight is throughout John’s actions and character in this film which starts with a rather heartbreaking moment where John loses something major due to him saying no to Santino. It’s a sad sequence with a lot of great tragic imagery that fueled me to root for John once again. Stahelski not only knows how to shoot action but the guy really knows how to capture dramatic imagery and string them into beautiful stories without dialogue.
Emotional impact is check now what about the characters? Well when you go to Italy and there’s a whole sequence where Peter Serafinowicz (Darth Maul’s voice) is helping pick out an assortment of weaponry for John, as he describes them as different courses of a meal you tend to start things off pretty damn well. Common is also in part two as Cassian who is basically John Wick but as a bodyguard. It’s a really interesting flip because as John fought to a near death level for vengeance, Cassian is also fighting for the same reason and will stop at nothing to get revenge on John. Their training is matched beat for beat it seems in the flick as at one point they have a ten minute bare knuckle brawl that I haven’t seen go down since Rowdy Roddy Piper and Keith David went at it in They Live. Of course everybody is super excited to see Morpheus and Neo back on the screen together and you may ask how was it? Well Laurence Fishburne plays the Bowery King who runs a network of homeless assassins that watch everything and everyone. That’s right a network of homeless assassins. How much more insane can that get!? The Bowery King is about as eccentric and insane as they come too, Fishburne just pouring on the crazy and I loved every minute of it. Keep your eye out too because Franco Nero aka the original Django pops up in the film. When you put Franco Nero in an action flick that’s as deep cuts as it gets boys and girls.
Stahelski and Kolstad brought Wick back and made me care again. The action pieces are phenomenal, the supporting cast helps make this world more grandiose and believable and Keanu Reeves made me care again. That’s what gets me the most is Stahelski seems to really be able to bring out the best in Reeves and bring him to a level that no other director has in my opinion been able to do. I don’t think it has the same impact as the first film but it definitely stands on its own and breaks the mold for an action sequel. Baba Yaga returns to seek vengeance in a comeback for the ages and for that I give John Wick 2 four gold pieces out of five!