Not afraid to say it: I’ve got a man-crush on John Wick.
Who would have guessed Keanu Reeves’ stoic, black-clad, one-man killing machine would become THE go-to bad guy/action hero of the 2010s?
I know. But it’s true! With the stylish and darkly funny and bloody/gorgeous pulp thriller “John Wick” in 2014, and this equally entertaining and even more action-jammed thriller, the underworld legend known by colleagues as “the man even the Boogeyman fears” runs rings around the likes of those “Fast and Furious” gearheads, or Liam Neeson whenever someone is “Taken” from him, or little Jack Reacher.
If you haven’t seen the first “John Wick,” you should check it out, but in the meantime, a little background.
Once the baddest of the bad, John Wick had settled into an idyllic retirement with his beatific wife (Bridget Moynihan) — until the wife died of Movie Plot Disease, and some horrible, mean, jerky Russian guys broke into John’s house, stole his beloved car and killed his beloved puppy (what!), and just like that, JOHN WICK WAS BACK, BABY, AND THERE WAS HELL TO PAY.
The sequel picks up almost immediately after the events of the original. John retrieves his car in a spectacularly ridiculous sequence in which the first dozen or so of at least 100 bodies pile up. (John sustains many a wound to the midsection, but thanks to body armor and the incredibly bad aim of the generic henchmen— and henchwomen — trying to take him down, his handsome face remains intact save for a few artfully placed bruises and scratches.)
Just when John thinks he’s out … well, you know the rest. The slimy Camorra gangster Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) calls in a marker, and John has no choice but to journey to Rome to carry out a hit on Santino’s sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini) so Santino can take Gianna’s place on the secret, international council of crime bosses that pretty much controls the world.
That’s one of the great things about the John Wick universe: It’s a twisted fairy tale in which it seems as if about 10 percent of the people on the streets are assassins; criminals can take refuge in upscale hotels known as “The Continental,” where no violence is allowed; and nobody in the “real” world seems to be all that shaken when John and his adversaries shoot it out in public, leaving bodies on the street and broken glass everywhere. (This movie might set the record for most shattered glass.)
Once John arrives in Rome, he checks in at the Italian edition of The Continental, where the proprietor wants to know if John “is here for the pope.” No, says John. Not the pope.
In that case, enjoy your stay!
After getting outfitted with a couple of tailored, bulletproof tuxedos and arming himself with handguns, automatic weapons and knives, John sets off a firestorm of violence and winds up face to face with his old friend/adversary Cassian (Common). Their tumble-down-the-stairs confrontation is one of the great fight scenes of the decade. It’s deliberately funny in its own lethal way, and it brings down the house.
Magnificent supporting turns abound in “John Wick 2.” Ian McShane returns as Winston, the civilized, “rules must apply” proprietor of the Continental. Lance Reddick is back as Charon, the do-it-all concierge at the hotel. Ruby Rose is a kick as a killer who looks like a runway model, speaks in sign language and has “J-U-S-T” tattooed across her knuckles.
And then there’s Laurence Fishburne — that’s right, Morpheus himself — as a New York crime lord who uses carrier pigeons to deliver — oh, I don’t know — important information, employs hundreds of lookouts and informants disguised as the homeless, and laughs as if he’s seen every movie in which bad guys guffaw with a gusto never heard in the actual human experience. If you think director Chad Stahelski and screenwriter Derek Kolstad pass up the opportunity for some crowd-pleasing “Matrix” references, come on! This is John Wick’s world, and enjoy the ride.
I love the look of “John Wick 2.” Stahelski stages insanely creative shootouts and hand-to-hand combat sequences in locations ranging from the ruins of ancient Rome to the New York subway. Dan Laustsen’s cinematography is lush and stunning. The set designs are fantastically, richly detailed, with many a nod to action-movie tropes such Hundreds of Candles Artfully Flickering for No Reason, and Sophisticated Bad Guy Lairs With Dark Wood Furniture and Interesting Art.
Just when we thought Keanu Reeves was destined for a career of mostly forgettable films piling up in our straight-to-video cues, the guy is headlining a bona fide, first-class action franchise.
Summit Entertainment presents a film directed by Chad Stahelski and written by Derek Kolstad. Rated R (for strong violence throughout, some language and brief nudity). Running time: 122 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.