John Wick re­turns for more styl­ized vi­o­lence

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - KATIE WALSH

If you didn’t catch 2014’s sur­prise ac­tion hit “John Wick,” launch­ing Keanu Reeves right into a Liam Nee­son-style ca­reer re­birth, it’s OK. Peter Stor­mare is here to ex­plain “John Wick” to you at the be­gin­ning of “John Wick: Chap­ter 2.” Play­ing a Rus­sian gang­ster, he serves as a con­nec­tion to the prior film, wherein re­tired as­sas­sin Wick killed ev­ery­one in sight while aveng­ing his dog. In fair­ness, the dog was re­ally cute. Stor­mare serves as an au­di­ence proxy, a fan of Wick. “He killed three men in a bar with pen­cil!” Stor­mare ex­claims. And in the way that ev­ery char­ac­ter rec­og­nizes him on sight, ut­ter­ing “John Wick...,” it’s like they all saw the first movie too.

Writer Derek Kol­stad and di­rec­tor Chad Sta­hel­ski are back for the se­quel along­side Reeves, brew­ing up more of that uniquely Wick­ian magic. The screen­play is once again tac­i­turn, nearly word­less; Wick speaks in­fre­quently, in mono­syl­la­bles (per­fect for Reeves’ stoner in­to­na­tion), and new co-star Ruby Rose doesn’t ut­ter a word. But the film is noisy, speak­ing in the whine of mo­tor­cy­cles, rum­bling en­gines, gun­shots, knife swipes and text mes­sage alerts an­nounc­ing a bounty on John Wick’s head.

Like its pre­de­ces­sor, “John Wick: Chap­ter 2” is a sym­phony of vi­o­lence, a bal­let even, and the vi­su­als are ab­stracted to the sur­real. The cam­era doesn’t cut of­ten, es­chew­ing the rapid fire edit­ing typ­i­cal for this genre.

In long takes, it me­thod­i­cally fol­lows Wick as he works, smash­ing and stab­bing and shoot­ing. He is tal­ented, but it is work he de­tests; he’s com­pelled by his rep­u­ta­tion and his skillset into ac­tion. Reeves plays the au­topi­lot as­sas­sin with a haunted de­spon­dency. His skills are re­mark­able (you gotta see him with a pen­cil), but he limps and heaves and bleeds. His hurt, in­side and out, is all over his face.

He’s a sim­ple man, with a sim­ple

life. All he needs are his house, car and dog. Mess with that, mess with him. In the first film, he avenged his dog; now, it’s his house, filled with all the mem­o­ries of his late wife. It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing role for Reeves’ resur­gence, and Stahleski and Kol­stad play per­fectly to his strengths: his quiet, Zen-like power, his just-dead­pan-enough line read­ings that have in­spired un­in­ten­tional gig­gles through­out his ca­reer.

The sur­real, styl­ized orgy of vi­o­lence reaches its cli­max in a de­li­ciously meta art ex­hibit, a hall of mir­rors, mak­ing for a self-re­flec­tive wink at the no­tion of the me­di­ated im­age. John Wick’s mur­der­ous ac­tions are re­flected and re­fracted at him, and our plea­sure in this car­nage, our cul­pa­bil­ity, is re­flected on our­selves. The mo­ments where it isn’t plea­sur­able are when it es­capes the fan­tasy world and shows us some­thing too real. Ad­mit­tedly, it’s a bit queasy to watch John Wick shoot up a party, even if it is se­lec­tively at bal­a­clava’d bad guys.

Where “Chap­ter 2” stum­bles is in its plot­ting. The beauty of the first film was in the sim­plic­ity of story mar­ried to Reeves’ quiet per­sona and per­for­mance. Avenge the dog — that’s it. This film in­volves sib­ling ri­val­ries, long cons, pawns, boun­ties and dou­ble crosses. It ends, then ends, and ends again, ex­tend­ing the ex­er­cise far beyond its wel­come. It should have taken a note from its star and kept it sim­ple, stupid.

NIKO TAVERNISE, LIONSGATE

Keanu Reeves in a scene from “John Wick: Chap­ter 2.”

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