If you didn’t catch 2014’s surprise action hit “John Wick,” launching Keanu Reeves right into a Liam Neeson-style career rebirth, it’s OK. Peter Stormare is here to explain “John Wick” to you at the beginning of “John Wick: Chapter 2.”
Playing a Russian gangster, he serves as a connection to the prior film, wherein retired assassin Wick killed everyone in sight while avenging his dog. In fairness, the dog was really cute. “He killed three men in a bar with pencil!” Stormare exclaims.
Writer Derek Kolstad and director Chad Stahelski are back for the sequel alongside Reeves, brewing up more of that uniquely Wickian magic. The screenplay is taciturn, nearly wordless; Wick speaks in monosyllables (perfect for Reeves’ stoner intonation) But the film is noisy, speaking in the whine of motorcycles, rumbling engines, gunshots, knife swipes and text message alerts announcing a bounty on John Wick’s head.
“John Wick: Chapter 2” is a symphony of violence, a ballet even, and the visuals are abstracted to the surreal. In long takes, the camera follows Wick as he works, smashing and stabbing and shooting. He is talented, but it is work he detests; Reeves plays the autopilot assassin with a haunted despondency. His skills are remarkable (you gotta see him with a pencil), but he limps and heaves and bleeds.
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Where “Chapter 2” stumbles is in its plotting. The beauty of the first film was in the simplicity of story. Avenge the dog – that’s it.
This film involves sibling rivalries, long cons, pawns, bounties and double crosses. It ends, then ends, and ends again, extending the exercise far beyond its welcome.
John Wick: Chapter 2
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Lance Reddick, John Leguizamo, Peter Serafinowicz, Bridget Moynahan
Director: Chad Stahelski
Rated R (strong violence throughout, some language and brief nudity)
Now playing at Barkley Village 16