In the first installment of “John Wick,” audiences learned the title character (Played by Keanu Reeves) is a bad-ass killer with a gorgeous car, a grieving heart and a desire to be left alone. Then, some evil-doer has to go and kill Wick’s dog because he wants our protagonist’s Mustang. That moment goes down as the worst decision in the history of bad decisions made by bad men. The level of commitment — and the merciless dedication to revenge — by the title character made for a great action film. “John Wick: Chapter 2” takes things to a new level.
Chapter 2 opens up five days after the first film ends, with Wick in a high-speed chase with a faceless, soon to be dead guy on a motorcycle. Motorcycle guy does not fare well against the Zen bringer-of-doom that is Wick. Neither do his buddies who have Wick’s prized Mustang. Breaks slam, gas pedals get floored, fenders get dented, windows shatter: A whole lot of cabs get destroyed and many, many nefarious henchmen get the ever-living daylights beaten out of them as crime boss Abram (Peter Stormare, sweating pure fear and terror out of his pores) gets more and more worried. The body count reaches epic proportions in the opening sequence, but that’s just getting things started.
Wick’s reality is a network of hired killers, gold coins, hotels that act as violence-free zones, and impeccable Italian suits. It’s also a place he is forced back into when Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio, all low-energy evil wrapped in a power-hungry trust fund baby) calls in Wick’s marker to pull our hero back into the underworld to repay D’Antonio’s favor. Wick declines, D’Antonio bargains with him by launching a withering attack on Wick’s home. So, it is back into the world of high-end hotels, gorgeous women and a Sommelier (Peter Serafinowicz) who is worth every gold coin Wick pays him. The bad guys are different this time around; just as dapper as Wick and better-equipped in many ways too.
Cassian (played by Common with an understated cool vibe and an astoundingly bad Italian accent) is every bit Wick’s equal in the art of shooting things and beating the hell out of people. Ares is played by Ruby Rose with an edge but little else. Rose does not speak, which is probably a smart decision on the part of director Chad Stahelski since acting is not the Australian entertainer’s strong suit. The cast is filled out by heavyweights such as Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane and Bridget Moynahan. Once Wick sets up shop in Italy, the body count gets higher than Neil Armstrong and gunshots to the head ring out loudly and frequently.
The shoot out in the catacombs is a ballet of gunfire, smoke, screaming and close-quarters fighting. The energy level and intensity is higher than the first film. A bounty on Wick’s head only means New York City will have as ugly an appointment with carnage that Rome just endured at the hands (and feet) of Wick. The mention of his name strikes hushed tones of awe into the souls of his fellow mercenaries.
Escapist entertainment can be diverting and enjoyable when it is done well. “John Wick: Chapter 2” is a well-filmed, well-acted action kill-fest. “Chapter 2” is the middle of a planned trilogy. With the amount of punishment Wick gives and takes, I’m assuming the third installment may require tanks and nuclear warheads.