John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) — You can’t tag me, I’m in the safe zone

“John Wick. The man. The myth. The legend. You’re not very good at retiring.”

Justin’s rating: “Whoa. I know gun-fu.”

Justin’s review: I don’t think that anyone who helped to make 2014’s John Wick thought they were starting a franchise. As it sometimes goes, it was a one-off for-fun action flick that ended up being a surprise hit. And whenever Hollywood gets those hits, Hollywood guns for sequels.

In this case, I won’t complain. The first movie felt like a breath of fresh air in the stale action genre for its pulse-pounding pace, its intriguing underworld setting, and the fact that you could actually see and follow all of the lightning-fast fight scenes without a lot of excessive cutting. Plus, a simmering Keanu Reeves working out his grief process through mass revenge didn’t prove boring.

So now that John Wick came out of “retirement” to rejoin the field of expensive assassins with their own secret Harry Potter-like world that’s hidden in plain sight, what’s a contract killer to do? What makes this series intriguing is that we as the audience are left in the dark about a lot of the background to both Wick and this world of assassins, and so we keep watching to piece it together.

In this case, John Wick is visited by a mafia crime boss named Santino who tries to call in a blood marker. Apparently Santino did something to help Wick retire for the purposes of marrying a while back, and now that marker is due. After initially turning the job down (and ensuing some unfortunate property damage), John takes on a hit against the crime boss’ sister, and a whole lot of fighting and double-crossing follows.

At the heart of John Wick: Chapter 2 is the theme of rules and freedom to live as one wants. We’re told that even these heartless killers have agreed to bind themselves to two unbreakable laws that keep their world from falling into chaos. Suffice to say, John Wick — a man who clearly does not like to be pushed around or manipulated — breaks both rules before all is said and done, ramping up the stakes to unbearable levels.

Yet we cheer him on because we see him fighting to break out of a system that he doesn’t quite like so much. We cheer him on because we want to see John Wick attain freedom.

Also, he’s so good at being this unstoppable battle platform that we don’t want to see him stop at any point.

If there’s any complaint I have here, it’s that it takes over 45 minutes for John Wick to break out his signature gun-fu and mow through waves of enemies like he was in an early Atari arcade game.

Once the movie does rev up, it’s pretty much non-stop from there. It’s all stylish and well-done, even the tricky cinematography of shooting a whole sequence in dimly lit catacombs. Every fight is a master course on stunt work that should make you deeply appreciate the skill that’s on display here (more so when you realize that Reeves did most all of his own stunts).

I guess I have one more complaint, which is that this sequel doesn’t boast the same streak of black humor that offered moments of levity in the first film. I have nothing more to say about that other than I missed it and hope that there’s more of it in the future.

If you put a gun to my head, I’d say that John Wick: Chapter 2 met my expectations for a swaggering sequel and then some.

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