RECAP: John Wick: Chapter 2

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017): Chad Stahelski

John Wick is baaaaaaack!!!!!!

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: John Wick honors an old debt and lives (and kills) to regret it. 

Hero (6/10)

Keanu Reeves is back and gruffer than ever. John Wick: Chapter 2 picks up where John Wick left off. Wick, with a new, adult dog in tow, finishes the revenge he started when his first dog was murdered by the son of a Russian mobster.

Father and son died in the first, but we didn’t know there was a brother/uncle. Peter Stormare plays Abram, brother to the Tarasov gangster. Abram helpfully informs and underling, and the audience, why John Wick is destroying the criminal underworld. It was about a dog, and now it is about his car.

Wick’s already killed a few bad guys before we see his face. Wick fights off many goons to get his car back. When he does, the chassis is shot to hell, the drive shaft barely resembles one, and the driver door is missing.

John Wick: Chapter 2 poster and John Wick's day to day.
John Wick: Chapter 2 poster and John Wick’s day to day.

The car represents Wick’s world. In John’s possession it was destroyed. The mob took care of it, but as soon as Wick touched it it turned to shit. Just like his puppy. Just like his wife who died of cancer. And, in this movie, just like his house.

Shortly after retrieving his car, Wick is visited by Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), a member of a major Italian crime family. Wick owes Santino a debt.

In John Wick we learned that Wick left the murdering-for-hire business because he completed an “impossible” task. Turns out he had some help from Santino, and to earn his help Wick signed a blood oath. Santino calls in that debt.

Wick refuses and moments later Santino incinerates Wick’s house. After meeting with a mentor Wick decides to accept, knowing he must or die. Wick falls back in to the murder work as if into old pajamas. The killing is a comfort to him, even if he looks as if nothing comforts him.

Wick’s job takes him to Rome. Chapter 2 reveals much more of the criminal underground hinted at in John Wick. In one sequence Wick visits three shops (the visits cut amongst each other). The tailor measures him for a new evening suit with bullet armor sewn in. A sommelier offers the finest in weaponry.

Keanu Reeves doesn’t let us know what Wick enjoys. His lines are choked out as if each word was deducted from his pay. For the first time in two films we catch Wick in a moment when he’s lost his even keel. He opens a safe deposit box in Manhattan, ready to head back into the field, and screams, enraged, that he’s doing so.

And that’s it. Most of Wick’s expressions are of the martial variety. He kills and kills and kills, all to reach Santino. The villain alludes to Wick’s true motivation. He believes John is addicted to violence and revenge.

Bad guy might have a point. Wick was out and returned to the assassins world to avenge his puppy and retrieve his car. This time around he fulfills a blood debt made years ago to allow himself to leave the assassins world. Like Scarface said, they pull him back in.

But does Wick enjoy it? It’s hard to imagine Wick enjoys anything. He takes in the finest in hotels, clothes, guns, dogs. You won’t catch him smiling, though.

What’s lost in these tales of death and revenge is that Wick’s wife is only a few days in the ground. Characters often tell him they are sorry about his wife, but it’s hard to remember when said wife never makes an onscreen appearance in two films. (She’s in video that Wick watches, but that doesn’t count.)

Villain (3/10)

Santino D’Antonio is a dapper Italian scion of a criminal dynasty. But he has a problem: daddy’s left him out of the will. Papa D’Antonio had a seat at The Table. The Table only has 12 seats, and the father willed his seat to his daughter Gianna, Santino’s sister.

Santino is a jealous brother. That’s sad. He’s willing to murder his sister for the power he craves. To do that he hires John Wick, world’s greatest assassin. Smart move.

Hey, John, you wanna kill my sister? After that my toilet's clogged.
Hey, John, you wanna kill my sister? After that my toilet’s clogged.

Santino helped Wick escape the assassin world a few years ago, and he’s returned to call in that debt, a blood debt signed in a marker. This marker is a huge pewter coin that flips open to reveal a bloody thumbprint–Wick’s–with room for Santino’s upon fulfillment.

Santino visits Wick moments after Wick has rescued his car. He makes demands. Wick rejects them. Santino shoots three rocket-propelled grenades into his New Jersey home. Wick and his nameless dog survive, but the photos of his dead wife Helen do not.

We know Santino’s rich because his father’s art collection sits in an unnamed museum. Money isn’t enough; he needs power.

Wick achieves what Santino wants, but that doesn’t close the debt for Santino. He sends several of his goons to kill Wick. What kind of brother would I be, he asks, if I did not avenge my sister?

She has the seat at The Table and all the power her brother wants.
She has the seat at The Table and all the power her brother wants.

Good question. With his sister dead, Santino can take her seat at The Table, making the transition of power in this crime syndicate very, very easy and without Congressional hearings or other bureaucratic time-wasters.

I will remember Santino for his skill at wearing the world’s finest clothes. He handles a grenade launcher well and appreciates art. He was no match for Wick, though.

Action/Effects (5/10)

John Wick does not mess around when he’s working, and his filmmakers do not either. Let’s talk about the brutal battle beneath the D’Antonio mansion.

Wick is charged with assassinating Gianna D’Antonio (Claudia Gerini), Santino’s sister, as we know. He’s prepared well for this attack, placing rifles in key locations underground.

Above ground a party rages. Nostalghia serenades a huge crowd as Gianna walks amongst her adoring fans/acolytes/subjects or whatever they are. Do they all know she’s a crime lord?

Wick has a slick, deadly scene with his prey, Gianna, who does his dirty work for him. She will die on her own terms. Wick is ready to leave the estate when he bumps into Gianna’s chief bodyguard, Cassian (Common).

“Working tonight?” Cassian asks. Wick says that he is. The trouble starts. Both men fall to the ground, draw handguns, and fire simultaneously. Cassian hits Wick, does no damage, looks confused. He doesn’t know about the impenetrable armor sewn into Wick’s suit. We know about it.

Getting shot hurts like a mother, so Wick spends a lot of time hobbling in Chapter 2. He hobbles onto stage and kills two guards. The band keeps playing and the crowd cheers the murders. They just want to see someone slay.

Off stage, Wick fights more guys. He shoots one in the head, splattering his blood on a white glow globe. Wick grapples with another goon, head locks him, wrenches his head backward and shoots up through the back of his skull. Somehow Wick avoids a face full of head guts.

Having dealt with Gianna’s guards, Wick enters the blue lit catacombs, thinking he’s done for the night. Ares (Ruby Rose) steps ahead of him. Santino’s chief bodyguard and a mute, Ares can only be there for one reason.

The Silent Assassin
The Silent Assassin

“Loose ends?” Wick calls out. Ares makes the sign for “Just one,” except she uses her middle finger finger to count as one.

With that, a handful of men wearing black ski masks sprint toward Wick. The camera stays with Wick moving backward as he sprints forward but shoots backward. The bad guys have lights that swing about as they run, communicating their confusion and fear.

Wick is shot several times in this sequence, but the impenetrable armor takes care of the bullets. After he empties his pistol he finds his first rifle, an AR-15. Many more men die in the working arrangement of John Wick kills: in one or two moves, and with a head shot. When Wick empties the rifle he throws it at an enemy.

Guys keep streaming in to attack Wick. These crime lords have limitless resources and henchmen. He slides down ruined stairs to take cover and shoot up at his pursuers.

Wick has time to find his last stashed weapon, something big and bold, a Benelli M4. This Italian classic sports a custom bolt carrier release and charging handle. It has textured grips should one’s hands get wet. Very nice. Wick also dons the belt of ammo for faster reloading.

The Benelli shotgun bellows in the catacombs. Wick dips behind walls and pops out to blast to hell everything in front of him. Good thing these guys are already in a tomb when they die. Cuts down on funeral costs.

Five, maybe six shots comprise a clip in this gun, and the reload is slow, methodical. We are almost pained watching Wick reload, waiting for the kill shot to come as he’s looking at a clip. Brings to mind The Walking Dead‘s Michone and why she prefers swords: blades don’t need reloading.

Wick is a special talent. He can fight off guys while reloading. At one point he empties a clip. Still needing to kill a bad guy, Wick drives the gun barrel into the man’s suited chest. Wick loads a fresh cartridge as the man struggles beneath. The rifle locked and loaded, Wick shoots the man’s chest at point blank. I can’t imagine how Wick can avoid becoming blood-soaked, but he does.

Wick stumbles out of the catacombs. His night still isn’t over, as Cassian drives a car into Wick. Wick recovers fast enough to shoot back as Cassian exits the car. The two trade shots at each other through a line of parked cars, missing every time.

Wick runs out of bullets and patience and leaps across a car hood into Cassian. In a long shot, we watch the men grapple with each other. They roll down three sets of stairs. Rome is just all stairs and bricks, it seems. Wick drives Cassian into an ancient wall, and they tumble down more stairs.

Cassian and Wick end up fighting in a small square. Wick’s favorite move is to flip a guy onto the ground and work from the ground up. Cassian seems to live on the ground as well. He spins at Wick like a Harlem breakdancer.

Cassian breaks out a knife and taps Wick’s chest with its tip. The wound, if there was one, is swift and shallow, but enough to knock Wick off his game. Cassian has Wick in a choke hold until Wick runs backward and they crash through glass into the Continental. Can’t fight in there, you know, so they quit and have a drink. Cassian buys Wick a bourbon with a gold coin as a bit of professional courtesy.

Sidekicks (1/8)

In Chapter 2, John Wick seems to have less help than in his first outing. No snipers watching his back this time, and more bad guys coming after him.

Wick visits a tailor, cartographer, and “sommelier” in Rome. These three treat Wick with respect, as a VIB, very important buyer. The sommelier is practically Wick’s best friend, knowing his preferred weapons. For Wick, such a connection constitutes a friendship on the Johnson/Boswell level.

He was a good boy
He was a good boy

Charon, the Continental’s desk clerk, volunteers to watch Wick’s dog. Winston, Continental owner, offers Wick one hour to get ahead of the worldwide hit he’ll put out on him. When Wick refuses to honor a blood debt, Santino doesn’t kill him, he blows up his house.

With friends like these…. The only person to directly help Wick for nothing in exchange is Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), and all he does is give Wick a gun with seven bullets.

These other characters slot into the underworld Stahelski has created, but they don’t care much for John Wick. It’s not what have you done for me, but what can you do for me.

One point for having a dog.

Henchmen (4/8)

Santino has many men at his disposal, and he disposes many of them. He only has one woman. Ruby Rose plays Ares, a silent assassin who is Santino’s right-hand woman.

Ares is barely present at the first Santino-Wick meeting, but she stands out for being a slender, tattooed woman amongst hulking men. Their fashion style has worn off on her; she wears slacks most of the time and her hair is cut short.

Ares stands out for her silence. She’s mute. Lack of speech hasn’t sapped her tenacity nor her enjoyment of the crime game. Her best line comes in the Rome catacombs, when she uses her middle finger to sign “one” to Wick.

Dude's tall so he has to aim down at people.
Dude’s tall so he has to aim down at people.

Ares is devoted to her boss. In the hall of mirrors inside the New York Museum, Ares puts her hand on Santino’s shoulder to guide him through the mirror maze. Once through the art exhibit, she lets him go and stands to face Wick alone.

We don’t see Ares fight until the climax. She holds her own with Wick, landing a few blows before Wick does her in with a knife to her chest. Still, Ares gets off a great exit line. “Be seeing you,” she signs as her life wheezes out in a hall of mirrors.

Common plays the other henchman, Cassian, Gianna D’Antonio’s chief bodyguard. Cassian is pissed at Wick because he murdered his boss. That’s not strictly true, but he was about to, so, as my peers said back in the day, same diff.

Cassian fights Wick nearly to a draw before they crash into the Continental hotel and have to pause the fighting. He’ll take the $7 million contract for Wick’s life back to New York.

Cassian is a good fighter. He doesn’t care one whit about collateral damage, trading shots with Wick through an opaque water fountain, clandestinely shooting at each other in a crowded transit hub, and slicing at each other in a subway car. In the end, that’s where we leave Cassian, a knife inside his chest.

Stunts (5/6)

John Wick: Chapter 2 begins right after John Wick concludes. Wick wants his car back. The car Alfie Allen stole in the first movie. It sits in the garage of the brother of the mobster Wick killed in the first movie.

The end of the last movie and the start of this one are so closely tied that they could someday be edited into one movie. Peter Stormare is on hand to recount Wick’s reasons for revenge: dog and car. What more does a man need?

As the narration recounts the last movie, Wick carves through the guards separating him from his stolen car. We don’t see Wick’s face until he’s killed several guards. Don’t need to; it’s the same face.

Wick finds his car beneath a sheet and the keys on the sun visor. Driving that thing out of there, he gets the car airborne.

Stormare ain’t going to let him get off that easy. He sends his best drivers after Wick in taxis. Yes, taxis. And a guy on a motorcycle. Wick is quickly tag teamed by the taxis, severely damaging the car’s resale value.

Wick gets away but has a motorcycle chasing him. The biker pops a couple shots into Wick’s car. Wick shoves open his door and hits the brakes. The bikers smashes into the door, severing it from the car, and flies forward, no longer a problem.

Fighting to get his car back
Fighting to get his car back

Another car drives into view. Wick hits the accelerator and pins the car between Wick’s and a wall. Wick reverses and hits the car again, driver side. The dazed driver stumbles out and jogs away. Wick backs up his car, whips the steering wheel around 180 degrees, using the car as a battering ram to fling the bad guy into a concrete wall 15 feet away. Great driving move.

Wick drives back into the compound and barely dodges a taxi. Wick falls out of the car and beats back some goons. Elbows to the back, tackles, tumbles: those sorts of moves.

An enormous goon appears. Bearded and hulking, he menaces at Wick. Wick comes at the guy, but the enemy takes Wick and flips all 200 pounds of him onto the wet floor as if he were a tree branch. Hey, Wick’s got a gun! He shoots the goon in both knee caps. Fight over.

Wick approaches Stormare, pours two vodkas, and sues for peace. He’ll have it, but not from the Italians.

Santino takes the fight to Wick worldwide. We watch Wick navigate New York as three separate scenes are spliced amongst each other. One woman playing the violin, a man sitting in a park, and two men standing in the transit hub attack Wick.

The violin lady shoots Wick twice in the gut, point blank. He survives, but bleeds much. The man in the park needs several shots to take down, and the men in the subway station Wick kills with a pencil, once in the ear and once in the back of the neck.

Terrifically brutal fighting captured in long takes makes for cinema you can’t look away from.

Climax (4/6)

New York’s ruler, the Bowery King, gave Wick a gun with seven rounds. With that lone gun Wick steps into another coronation, occurring days after the death of the last member of the D’Antonio family to have a seat at The Table.

Wick walks inside and becomes the center of the party. Commotion dies down and the partygoers part to make room for Wick.

Wick wastes no time. His first seven shots all hit their targets. Like in Rome, dozens of men are tossed into the maelstrom that is John Wick. They all will die.

But first Wick needs a new gun. He unhands a dead goon of his weapon as Santino escapes with other white-clad bodyguards.

Wick progresses through the unoccupied-except-for-the-criminals museum. More of the same killings for Wick. In a room of statues he kills six men without taking any wounds.

Wick must take their guns one at a time. The camera is not shy in Chapter 2, staying on Wick for extended takes. In one moment Wick, straddling the body of a man he’s just killed, unloads an empty clip by ejecting it across the tiled museum floor, loads another clip and checks the chamber for a round.

Everywhere you go you see yourself
Everywhere you go you see yourself

In another room Wick repeats the through-the-wall shot he patented in John Wick. Wick fires at a bad guy’s knee level through the wall, scoring a hit and eventually a kill.

All this killing occurs without Ares and her team of killers on the scene. Where was she? We never find out, but she’s there now.

Santino, Wick, Ares, and other goons enter Reflex of the Soul, a soothing meditation on our collective mentality and a chance to go insane getting lost inside a hall of mirrors with shifting walls.

The camera is forced in tight with the actors. It’s impossible to determine what’s a person and what’s a reflection, and I’ll never figure out how the filmmakers avoiding having the camera in the shots.

“Impossible” for us. Wick never misses. Head shots finish off goons as Santino taunts him. “No wife, no life, no home,” he says. All Wick has is violence, and he can’t stop.

As the mirror walls flick open and shut, constantly reshaping the interior space, Wick spots a bad guy and lets him shoot first to discern his location.

Ares leads Santino into a large room with black, unmoving stairs that appear to float in place. I thought for a moment I was watching the end of 2001. Wick enters this room and grapples with a man 50% larger than he is and better armed. Wick uses his body as a shield while shooting at another large man 15 feet above him on the stairs.

The camera cuts to a bird’s eye view as the shooting goon falls 15 feet and cracks the glass floor at Wick’s level. Then Wick chases Ares, who of course is the only character sporting a silenced weapon. Ares leads Santino to the end of the art exhibit. She sends him along and waits behind a sliding door for Wick.

Wick’s presence opens the motion-sensing door on Ares and her short blade in her left hand. Too close to use the silenced handgun, Ares attacks with kicks and slashes.

Ares appears to have learned from the John Wick school of fighting. She drops her center of gravity to spin kick at Wick, driving him back into a room maybe eight feet by eight feet.

Wick avoids the knife slashes and somehow takes the weapon from her. He drives it toward Ares, who blocks it with her hand, and by block I mean the blade penetrates her hand right up to Wick’s fingers.

Wick, stronger and with leverage, drives the hand and knife toward Ares’s chest. The blade enters and Ares drops to the floor, choking out her last breaths. “Be seeing you,” she signs as Wick leaves.

Santino has hobbled to the Continental. No business is allowed on Continental grounds, as we well know by now. Wick finds Santino in the restaurant, popping a cube of duck fat into his mouth. “A man can stay here a long time and never eat the same meal twice,” he says.

Winston, hotel owner, watches the scene. He implores Wick, “Just walk away.” Wick, handgun at his side, raises it and shoots Santino in the brain. It’s finished.

Skip ahead to Central Park. Winston awaits a meeting with Wick. John’s dog is with him. Wick broke the rules, and for that he must pay. Winston gives Wick one hour, until a worldwide contract goes out for Wick’s life. Before it was worth $7 million. What now? We don’t know.

John Wick says an important thing to Winston. “Tell them all. Whoever comes. Whoever it is. I’ll kill them all.” Wick and the dog run through Central Park and into the next movie.

Jokes (0/4)

Yeah, right.

Setting (3/4)

The filmmakers noticed what locations worked in John Wick and stuck with the elements. Manhattan is Wick’s playground again, but this time the hero gets to travel to Rome.

Rome has its own Continental, one I found more opulent and nicer than its New York counterpart. It seemed more spacious, anyway.

The star of the Rome sequences is the spacious underground area of catacombs. They sit beneath the D’Antoni estate.

James Bond was the last action character to visit Rome, in 2015’s Spectre. John Wick finds a similar orange city full of a vast criminal underground. Some things never change.

The new PATH concourse at One World Trade Center is a beautiful white monument to whitewashing the past. Makes the blood stand out, anyway.

Commentary (0/2)

We see more of the stylized criminal underground in Chapter 2. Rome has a Continental to match New York’s. Do these hotels have loyalty programs? Tattooed women operate mid-century switchboards, using Atari-level computers to enter kill orders that are instantly texted to mobiles worldwide. Neat trick.

Few crime movies have portrayed a worldwide syndicate of crime lords as organized as in John WickChapter 2 hints at warring factions, but we never see the fallout, only the fine suits and mink stoles.

New subway concourse at World Trade Center
New subway concourse at World Trade Center

It’s a bit silly and hard to believe if you think about it at all. So don’t. John Wick kills two men with a pencil inside a major New York transit hub. Nearly every extra appears to be an assassin-for-hire. Yet the only cop in the movie knows Wick is a paid killer and let’s it go.

John Wick is all about style over substance. Wick has little going in his life. He can’t even think what to name his dog. He seems to own neither Blu-Ray nor book. He wears great clothes and fights with ruthless efficiency. You’d never want to get a beer with him, though.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

Got nothing to say here.

Others

  • Each ticket sold to John Wick: Chapter 2 should have allowed viewers to vote on the the dog’s name.
  • (-1) Wick loves his dog, but he should have left him with Charon.

Summary (30/68): 44%

John Wick: Chapter 2 could be merged with John Wick one day, so tightly are its two plots interspersed.

Filmmakers knew what worked in the first movie and did little to change those elements in the second. Only that names and places changed. And they added a dog.

I enjoyed both movies so I can’t complain, but I would like something different for the third movie, should it happen.