As soon as it was announced there was going to be a sequel to Keanu’s killer surprise 2014 hitman hit John Wick, there was only one question that mattered: given that a callous act of puppy murder kicked open the bloody gates of vengeance in the first movie, does the dog make it through alive this time? 

Happily, while The Artist Formerly Known As Ted “Theodore” Loganspends John Wick: Chapter 2 getting shot, stabbed, beaten, blown up, hit by cars, thrown from cars and generally soaking up the sort of punishment most 50-year-olds (with the exception of Tom Cruise) would avoid while shooting most people he meets in the face, the replacement dog a grief-stricken Wick adopted at the end of the first film spends much of the sequel happily holidaying with smooth Hotel Continental concierge Charon (The Wire’s Lance Reddick) when Wick is forced out of retirement for that killer cliché of the hitman genre – one last job. Again. 

Honour bound to repay a blood debt to dodgy Mafiosi Santino (Riccardo Scamarcio) who covets his sister Gianna’s (Glaudia Gerini) seat at the global gangster high table, John Wick travels to Rome to bump off big sis, in the process earning the enmity of her deadly bodyguard Cassian (Common. Playing that character Common plays in everything). Doublecrossed by the duplicitous Santino (what kinda fool trusts a guy who not only hires out the murder of his sister but wants it done for free?), the hunter finds himself hunted by an army of assassins led by Santino’s mute, murderous Girl Friday, Ares (Ruby Rose). With a $7million bounty on his head, everybody wants a piece of John Wick… 

There’s a moment early in John Wick: Chapter 2 that neatly encapsulates the entire film. A Russian mobster, the wonderful Peter Stormare, playing the brother of the first movie’s baddie, is barricaded in his warehouse hideout, drowning his sorrows and waiting for justice to come a-calling in the form of Wick’s Boogeyman. Terrified, he recounts the time John Wick walked into a bar and killed three men “…with a fucking pencil!” only for a cocky underling to interrupt him “I’ve heard this one before.” 

Something else we’ve all heard before is the one about the hitman doing one last job but rarely does style triumph quite so breathtakingly over substance as in John Wick: Chapter 2, it’s paper-thin, overly familiar plot little more than an excuse to unleash some gobsmackingly beautiful, bone crunching violence as Reeves’ taciturn avenging angel descends like an assault rifle-toting Orpheus into a neon-splashed, blood-splattered, bullet-riddled underworld. 

Director and former stuntman Stahelski keeps the action relentless, choreographing mayhem beneath Rome’s Coliseum and in baroque bathrooms, uptown Manhattan art galleries and gleaming subway stations, barely even acknowledging reality as hordes of killers are dispatched by the unstoppable Wick without a cop intervening or an innocent bystander being plugged, one of the highlights of the film a low-key shootout during rush hour, rival assassins trading silenced shots in the midst of a deliciously oblivious crowd of commuters. 

Reeves and the classy cast play it refreshingly straight, mining the humour of Kolstad’s playful script, Ian McShane a study in twinkly malevolence, while new additions like Franco Nero’s manager of the Roman branch of the Continental, Peter Serafinowicz’s gun-dealing Sommelier and Laurence Fishburne’s Dickensian Bowery King (leader of a league of rough-sleeping assassins) join McShane, Reddick and John Leguizamo to flesh out Wick’s neo-noir alternate Universe while in any other film Common’s suddenly unemployed bodyguard might have been the hero, his sense of honour demanding he avenge his fallen boss. And by making Ruby Rose’s sleek hitgirl Ares mute, communicating only in sign language, Stahelski and Kolstad have finally found a way to get a decent performance out of the Queer Icon and there’s echoes of Enter The Dragon in her climactic, bruising fight scene with Reeves in a hall of mirrors. One could take issue with John Wick: Chapter 2’s gender politics, the film’s other major female characters being a dead woman and a soon-to-be dead women but, really, what would be the point? Rose’s Ares is a fanboy fantasy of the gender fluid tough girl no closer to reality than anything else in the film.

A better samurai movie than the fantasy abortion that was Reeves’ 47 Ronin, there’s shades of Kurosawa and Kobayashi as well as Melville (Jean-Pierre not Herman) and John Woo to John Wick: Chapter 2 as its taciturn, fatalistic killers take time out of brawling to share a tense cocktail, their personal code of honour and sense of duty, their sense of themselves, forcing them and everyone in their world to conform, to live or die by their choices. But what makes John Wick’s world so intriguing isn’t Reeves and Stahelski’s commitment to eschew CGI in favour of singlehandedly keeping Hollywood’s stuntmen in business by physically staging the film’s Looney Tunes action sequences in real time, its that this is a world that  the filmmakers have lovingly crafted from the ground up from the cleaners who get rid of your bodies to the tailors who dress you in bulletproof suits, Wick’s world feels real, at least to its characters. There’s even a Terry Gilliam-esque HR department where little old ladies issue hits!

You’re not going to see it win many gongs this awards but John Wick: Chapter 2 elevates the mindless action movie to high art, a breathless, hyperkinetic blast of pure cinema.

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