When the first “John Wick” hit theaters in 2014 I decided to pass. I was a fan of Keanu Reeves (“The Matrix,” “Constantine”) but his track record of films leading up to Chad Stahelski and David Leitch’s gun-fu hit was subpar at best — don’t remind me of “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”
I wound up buying it last year and was blown away by the artistry in which Reeves mowed down man after man, leaving a trail of bodies and destruction like a more-agile terminator on steroids.
And so I went into the theater with high expectations after watching the perfectly paced and superbly shot first installment.
Is the sequel, “John Wick: Chapter 2,” better than the first? No. But it is nonetheless a whimsical and unpredictable dose of high-octane action that will leave you with your mouth open time and again.
Reeves is our unstoppable hit man, John Wick, that is trying to escape from the criminal underworld and live a normal life in retirement. But he is inevitably pulled back into the game by Riccardo Scamarcio’s (Burnt) Santino D’Antonio, a young but hungry mob boss that is trying to work his way up the chain of command.
Wick reluctantly gives into D’Antonio’s request and sets off on a tour of death dealing that features guns, knives and a pencil — yes, a pencil.
There are some moments where Stahelski, who is the lone director this time around, tries to build Wick’s backstory of why he got out of the business and he also explores the idea of whether our protagonist is meant for or addicted to the life of an assassin. But both fell flat for the most part.
The added exposition of Wick’s past is nice for fans of the first but the real treat for devotees of the franchise and newcomers alike is the world building that happens when the bullets aren’t flying. The Continental Hotel — a holy ground of sorts in the world of assassins — from the original film is back and the lore is expanded upon with every interaction between Wick and Ian McShane’s (“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” “Kung Fu Panda”) Winston.
Wick also battles more gun-toting pro assassins this time around and the brutal and bloody fistfights with Common’s (“Smokin’ Aces,” “Selma”) Cassian are beautifully choreographed and shot.
But the real meat and potatoes of this film comes whenever Wick takes on multiple enemies in one-man-army shootouts usually saved for video games. At multiple times in the film, Wick is called the boogieman because of how deadly and indomitable he his. Wick is not the boogieman. He’s the guy you send to kill the boogieman. He’s unforgiving, tactical and smooth in every encounter. The gunfight in a maze of mirrors is a spectacle and one of several highlights from this film.
That being said, this is no masterpiece. The dialogue is cheesy here and there, some of the characters feel out of place — Ruby Rose (“Orange is the New Black,” “xXx: Return of Xander Cage”) did not work for me — and the pacing is jarring at times.
But every time the film started to veer off course, Reeves grabbed it by its neck, gave it a gut punch and flung it right back on the straight and narrow.
It’s not for everyone. But if you’re a fan of action movies, you’re going to love it.
BOX OFFICE REVIEW
1. “The LEGO Batman Movie”: $55,635,000 (Week 1); Warner Bros.
2. “Fifty Shades Darker”: $46,797,825 (Week 1); Universal
3. “John Wick: Chapter 2”: $30,015,000 (Week 1); Lionsgate
4. “Split”: $9,321,110 (Week 4); Universal. Total gross: $112,293,380
5. “Hidden Figures”: $8,000,000 (Week 8); Fox. Total gross: $131,452,250
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– Director: Yimou Zhang
– Cast: Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau
“Fist Fight” — When one school teacher gets the other fired, he is challenged to an after-school fight.
– Director: Richie Keen
– Cast: Christina Hendricks, JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Charlie Day, Ice Cube
“A Cure for Wellness” — An ambitious young executive is sent to retrieve his company’s CEO from an idyllic but mysterious “wellness center” at a remote location in the Swiss Alps but soon suspects that the spa’s miraculous treatments are not what they seem.
– Director: Gore Verbinski
– Cast: Jason Isaacs, Dane DeHaan, Mia Goth, Celia Imrie
“Land of Mine” — A young group of German POWs are made the enemy of a nation, where they are now forced to dig up 2 million land-mines with their bare hands.
– Director: Martin Zandvliet
– Cast: Roland Møller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard
“In Dubious Battle” — An activist
gets caught up in the labor movement for farm workers in California during the 1930s.
– Director: James Franco
– Cast: Nat Wolff, James Franco, Vincent D’Onofrio, Selena Gomez
“For the Love of Flicks” is a weekly column written by Sports Editor Tony Nunez. For comments or suggestions, email [email protected].