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Movie Review: ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’

“You stabbed the devil in the back. To him this isn’t vengeance, this is justice.” Again, someone makes the mistake of crossing expert hitman John Wick, in John Wick: Chapter 2, well played by Keanu Reeves, and once again, the audience journeys with Wick through his universe filled with professional killers and high profile crime moguls. This journey is a bit longer with a two-hour and two minute run time.

An enjoyable approach to lighting the fuse on a violent, yet admirable protagonist. As John Wick, Keanu Reeves demonstrates careful restraint and strategy while dealing with multiple antagonists in a criminal underworld filled with danger and safe havens plus new oaths.

Reeves rules the screen as Wick, who is disciplined in all aspects of his simplified life. He gets respect on sight, but this anti-hero is not cocky and does not taunt his foes. He unleashes his fury on several characters who have wronged him. Does he let these transgressions happen? No, because he has absolutely no fear, but not in a boastful way where he might say “they wouldn’t dare”. His actions create his reputation as the elevating ending expands this universe even more.

Expertly choreographed action, impressive continuity, and incredible action from veteran stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski who returns to direct this stunt-centered, action sequel filmed in New York City, Manhattan, Italy and Montreal, Canada. David Leitch (upcoming Deadpool 2) does not return as the uncredited co-director this time. Filmmakers stack the car stunts with John’s Mustang near the beginning including an amazing “wow” moment involving a car stunt inside a warehouse.

Derek Kolstad also returns to write the screenplay and created the characters who provide audience foreshadowing and perspective through their dialogue. For example, the manager of an Italian HQ/safe haven similar to New York City’s Continental hotel, owned by Winston, played again by Ian McShane, asks John if he’s “here for the Pope” when he arrives. Other underworld players include a memorable gunsmith, played by talented actor/voice talent Peter Serafinowicz (Guardians of the Galaxy) and tailor played by Luca Mosca (21) who is also a costume designer.

The characters may give John respect, but certainly do their best to best him when he’s in their way. Enter Italian crime lord Santino D’Antonio, played by Riccardo Scamarcio, and Cassian, played by Common. These respectively powerful and formidable antagonists get John involved into the crime underworld he left to start a life with his now late wife Helen, played again by Bridget Moynahan (I, Robot, TV’s Blue Bloods). Filmmakers also include footage of her from the previous installment, which distracts the audience because there is a noticeable difference in her appearance. Rising star Ruby Rose also plays the key antagonistic role of Ares.

Other key returning players include Thomas Sadoski as Jimmy the police officer, Lance Reddick (TV’s Fringe) as Charon the Continental Hotel concierge and John Leguizamo as Aurelio (only audiences who have seen the first installment will truly appreciate/understand what he does…and his loyalty towards John).

As Reeves reunited with his Matrix Reloaded co-star Randall Duk Kim in a key interior sequence in the first installment, Laurence Fishburne is cast as the crime lord known as The Bowery King in this sequel – their first collaboration between Reeves and Fishburne since appearing together in the Matrix trilogy. Claudia Gerini also has important role as Gianna as well as Peter Stormare (Minority Report) as Abram Tarasov.

Cinematographer Dan Laustsen baths scenes in a crisp, clear light that matches the first installment’s style well while Tyler Bates returns to compose the musical score with Joel J. Richard. Editor Evan Schiff gives audiences a great sense of the system thought there are a few too many scenes of character movements/walking. Filmmakers give audiences only glimpses of bystanders who never really get into the mix since no one would want to get involved, which opens opportunities for amazing sequences like John and Cassian openly taking shots at each other with silencer pistols at a busy subway.

John Wick’s sheer will and commitment do not reflect a glorification of violence and the plot does not insult the audience’s intelligence. All these characters and story elements in this engaging universe have varying degrees of future potential in the likely sequel coming in the next few years (Stahelski confirmed it’s in the work in October 2016). Recommended and rated R for strong violence throughout, some language and brief nudity.

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