Jim Eaton-Terry is blown away by the pop art onslaught of John Wick: Chapter 2
No-one knows the dangers of an action sequel better than Keanu Reeves. Having dodged the bullet of the bloated Speed 2: Cruise Control, he went on to take both almost unwatchably pompous Matrix sequels dead in the face, a double tap which came close to ending his career as the definitive action star of his generation. Like Eastwood in the ’70s and Schwarzenegger in the ’80s, Keanu’s blend of physical grace, stoner blankness and inhuman beauty (as with Angelina Jolie, the nearest equivalent action star to emerge since, he seems to occupy an ethnic group of one) allowed him to dominate ’90s action movies, but he spent the next decade floundering between more or less successful returns to indie cinema and universally terrible attempts to recapture the glory of Point Break, Speed and The Matrix.
2014’s John Wick brought him back where he belongs. On the face of it another post-Taken (and thus, ultimately, sub-Unforgiven) story of the grizzled veteran dragged reluctantly back into crime, John Wick was deliriously entertaining both by dint of the utter ludicrousness of its plot (our own Spank the Monkey summed it up best as Keanu Reeves hunts down and executes every Russian mobster operating in New York, because they killed his dog) and because of the relentless, committed, imaginative carnage of the action sequences. There’s a very special pleasure in watching Keanu plough through endless waves of anonymous gangsters in a variety of modernist buildings.
John Wick: Chapter 2 manages to take the first film’s strengths and double down on them all: from the building of a mystical world of assassins, governed by unbreakable codes of honour and enforced by smoothly dressed character actors; to the love of a pristine interior (the main villain appears to live in a full scale art gallery); to the weapon selection montage. The first hour of Chapter 2, as with the first film, eases into the world and has enormous fun before the action begins
But it is, ultimately, the action we’re all here for, and the sequel pushes the fight scenes far beyond the Hong Kong video game excesses of the first film. Director Chad Stahelski has expressed an interest in taking on a Bond film, but the last act of John Wick: Chapter 2 draws even more heavily on Bond-influenced ‘60s spy TV shows, creating a modern equivalent of the excesses of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or even The Prisoner (the mute, androgynous Ruby Rose, surely the greatest Bond henchperson since Grace Jones’s May Day, even lifting that show’s most famous catchphrase). The climactic fight, with Wick stalking Rose and her quartet of upscale menswear salesmen through a hall of mirrors, is as pure a piece of Pop Art film making as anything I’ve seen in 30 years.
Ruby Rose and her Hipster Riflemen
The film ends with what could either be the set up for a Chapter 3 or, though perhaps this is wishful thinking on my part, the recognition that only an open ending will work for the character. Before any chance of a second sequel, Stahleski is lined up to direct the Highlander reboot, which with its peculiar mix of demented mythology, stylised settings and relentless violence feels like an absolutely perfect match.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is in cinemas now