A few years ago a film was released that for all intents and purposes was a direct to DVD actioner that somehow made its way into cinemas. It was an enjoyable enough just-home-from-the-pub watch, rated 18 with a down and dirty aesthetic that you didn’t often see in those days and it became a surprise sleeper hit. Unfortunately it spawned an inferior watered down sequel that took out everything that made the original such a guilty pleasure. That film was, of course, Taken. Happily the sequel to 2014’s John Wick avoids (most of) these pitfalls and emerges as a richer film than its lauded bare bones predecessor even if it’s pretty much the exact same movie as before.
Keanu Reeves returns as the titular taciturn dog loving assassin, still unsuccessfully trying to retire but being brought back for One Last Job. When a fellow hitman colleague demands a debt be repaid Wick reluctantly goes on a globetrotting mission to take out a target, but gets double crossed and must go on the run with a bounty on his head…and that’s it. It’s basically Keanu Shoots a Whole Bunch of Dudes for two hours.
And that’s fine.
Director Chad Stahelski knows how to shoot a great action scene, lots of wide shots and long takes the like of which you don’t see very much of in American action cinema these days. It’s visceral and exciting. At least the first time. By the time the third shootout rolls around you get the feeling you’ve seen this already just in a different location. John Wick’s signature double tap is a thing of beauty but overall the gun-fu lacks the punch and variety of something like John Woo’s Hard Boiled and as such gets old, fast. Because the character is such a world class assassin it turns into that bit in Hot Shots Part Deux as he kills everyone without breaking a sweat. He’s playing Call of Duty on Easy mode, which isn’t fun to play and even less so to watch. More successful is a section in the middle with John facing off against a few assassins in a short space of time, forcing him to employ different methods beyond, yes, shooting a whole bunch of dudes. One such dispatching rivals the Joker’s magic trick that will no doubt illicit winces from the audience.
The world building was one of the more enjoyable aspects of the first film and it’s expanded here to great effect. The international fraternity of assassins is a fun comic book-y concept that the film runs with; the hotels where no business can be conducted, the secret passageways that lead to armouries, homeless folk in train stations not being what they seem. Each time one appears on the screen it provokes a smile and hints at a larger world that we only catch a glimpse of.
It’s a funnier film than the original but simultaneously just as po-faced with certain moments seemingly very self aware of the ludicrous premise awkwardly juxtaposed with long lingering shots of John Wick walking moodily or having conversations with his intended mark over the nature of his life and work. Who cares? Just let me watch Keanu Shoot a Whole Bunch of Dudes. The film still thinks the character is much cooler than he actually is, and though Keanu, bless him, with his one-note acting style tries his hardest the character comes off as bland and uninteresting rather than detached and aloof. In fact, everyone in the film seems as though their performance has been slowed down by 20%, though Laurence Fishburne livens things about a bit late on. The film could easily lose half an hour and be much better for it.
Overall, it’s a solid action movie with delusions of grandeur but it’s still just Keanu Shoots a Whole Bunch of Dudes for two hours. You’ll wish that Peter Stomare – chewing the scenery as always – would have stuck around for longer than the first ten minutes. At least then it might have been more fun.
by Jonny Cardwell