Inspired by a real-life incident regarding ex-Navy Seal (and Lone Survivor) Marcus Luttrell, John Wick lit up action fans with its slick and stylish approach to familiar material, kinetically directed by real-life stuntmen Chad Stahelski & David Leitch. In February 2017, we were treated to a sequel which in many ways surpassed its predecessor, with the significant difference being the tragic undercurrent has been replaced with a genuinely sly sense of humor courtesy of screenwriter Derek Kolstad in his depiction of a professional industry which adheres to strict codes in carrying out its business. John Wick is considered unusually lethal, with many of his “colleagues” dubbing him the Boogeyman, although the villain from the first film (played to perfection by the late Michael Nyqvist, whose son initiated the attack on Wick and murdered his dog) labeled Wick as “who you hire to kill the Boogeyman.” At one point, when Nyqvist has captured Wick, the latter mentions that many have been inquiring if he is indeed back in business and finally admitting that he's indeed back. Personally, I felt Reeves was addressing his audience, as his career up until then failed to reach the cinematic highs that the The Matrix films had garnered over a decade ago. In Chapter 2, Reeves echoes that moment by saying, “You wanted me back...well, I'm back!”
Set roughly five days after the events of the first film, Chapter 2 opens up with Wick on a mission to retrieve his stolen wheels from Nyqvist's brother in an NYC garage. While he does succeed, his car unfortunately gets smashed to hell, resulting in Wick handing the vehicle over to his old mechanic buddy John Leguizamo (one of many returning characters) for repairs. Wick is finally ready to start a new life with a new dog, but he's paid an unwelcome visit by an Italian crime lord who produces a marker containing Wick's bloody fingerprint, reminding the assassin that he has unpaid debts and must do a job to consummate the oath. Wick refuses, which only results in his house being destroyed, with all of the memories of his wife going up in flames. Reluctantly, Wick returns to the Continental Hotel, which caters exclusively to assassins and eventually meets with his nemesis to dole out retaliation, yet the crime lord convinces him to do the unsavory task of assassinating his sister in Rome. This not only triggers her devoted bodyguard (played by singer Common), but the crime lord also “sweetens” the deal by putting out a contract on Wick for seven million.
Doubling the budget of the original John Wick, Stahelski and his crew return to expand this universe and provide one breathless, exhilarating action sequence after another. Action fans were seriously thrilled by Reeves reuniting with his Matrix co-star Laurence Fishburne, although the film is practically stolen by Common (who had won an Oscar for Selma's original song “Glory” written in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.) and Australian model/DJ Ruby Rose as the deadly bodyguards who are determined to execute Wick for different reasons. Like the first film, Stahelski and Kolstad were heavily influenced by Sergio Leone westerns, although Chapter 2 hearkens back to the stunts performed by silent superstars Buster Keaton & Harold Lloyd; in addition, an entire sequence set in an NYC museum is dazzlingly reminiscent of the final battle in the kung fu classic Enter the Dragon. Stahelski is well-educated in not only the language of cinema as well as its history, and the strong critical reception to both John Wick films proves it with spades. The balls-to- the-wall action is further enhanced by the subtle humor inherent in the professionalism exhibited between the assassins. Chapter 2 is a lot of fun, raising the bar so high for the action genre and sequels in general that it's difficult to identify any faults with the film...and to be honest I think it would be fruitless to even attempt playing devil's advocate in this case. Since Chapter 3 is not due for release until 2020, franchise fans are going to have to be patient, although I'm sure it will deliver so long as Stahelski, Kolstad and Reeves continue to collaborate.
- BLU-RAY SPECS & EXTRAS -
Both John Wick films have been released on Blu-ray by Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment, and considering the expert use of light, shadow and sound, they are both outstanding. Like its predecessor, Chapter 2 is presented in stunning 1080p resolution and Dolby Atmos, complete with additional Dolby tracks in TrueHD 7.1 and a 5.1 Spanish track. Those who love special features will be pleased to know that in addition to DVD and digital HD copies that the amount of extras have been virtually doubled, starting with an audio commentary with Reeves and Stuhalski which is professional, informative and entertaining. There are 8 minutes of deleted scenes, which were appropriately edited out; while Chapter 2 is a good twenty minutes longer than the original, yet the picture never slows down for a second. Additional extras include a series of featurettes focusing on everything from the success of the first film (“Retro Wick”) to the stunts (“Training John Wick”), the cars (“Car-Fu Ride Along”), and the weapons (“Wick's Toolbox”), amounting to just over an hour of material. The regular DVD contains only the commentary, the theatrical trailer, “Retro John Wick” and “As Above, So Below: The Underworld of John Wick.” Whether you rent or buy John Wick: Chapter 2, it's still a wild ride whether you are an action fan or not.
- ABOUT THE AUTHOR -
Stone Gasman has been addicted to cinema ever since he was a child, becoming hooked on Chaplin, Hitchcock and Wilder by the time he was 10 years old. The film which changed his life was The Best Years of Our Lives, the 1946 winner for Best Picture and eight additional Oscars, which ultimately inspired him to join the US Navy. He is now a disabled veteran residing in New York City.