I was thinking…
…an impervious protagonist is not a particularly interesting thing. Superman without kryptonite would not be an intriguing hero no matter how many school children he saved. Ancient Greek or Roman gods would be nothing more than toga-clad snore-fests if they were not somehow subject to and victims of the same frailties that beset mankind.
A main character, no matter how flawed or seemingly perfect, keeps us invested in their struggle if there is the omnipresent danger they will be overwhelmed, overcome, defeated or killed.
John Wick (Keanu Reeves—47 Ronin, The Matrix), arguably the greatest action film character to grace the silver screen in a long time, is one of these protagonists who lives in a world where death stares at him from every window and street corner.
The thing we love about John Wick, of course, is he stares right back without flinching.
It is the character’s indefatigable tenaciousness that ropes us in, but it is our deeply seated fear he will somehow not survive to the end of the film that keeps us both rooted in our seats and rooting for him to succeed.
That is, of course, not to say John Wick is not a prime example of an anti-hero: someone who essentially does not occupy any traditional moral high ground nor operates within the law, but is nevertheless a sympathetic character in whom we become emotionally invested.
He is a notorious hitman who takes human life without balking, and we love every second of it.
But without that danger of him failing, losing or dying we would quickly lose interest. Creator, writer and director, Chad Stahelski, knew that right from the start. In the very beginning of the first offering, 2014’s John Wick, we see the titular character horribly wounded and presumably dying as he clasps the last images he has of his departed wife. From that moment moving forward, we do not know if he is going to ultimately survive the events yet to unfold. That fear of his mortality keeps us engaged.
The numerous headshots and mounting bodycount don’t hurt our enthusiasm either.
But (spoiler alert) John Wick survives (0bviously) in order to grace us with a second outing, in which he tries to wrap things up left undone from the first film–most notably, reacquiring his stolen Mustang.
With a new dog and his Mustang in woeful need of repair (a hyperbolic understatement, as you’ll see), John Wick believes he is finally able to pick up the remains of his life and return to a peaceful existence.
Ahh, but alas, that is just not in the cards for him.
Arriving at his home, a man from John’s past, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), demands John re-enter the underworld he abandoned in order to perform a favor for him. D’Antonio wants his sister killed, so he can take her position on the High Table–the council of international crime lords.
D’Antonio holds John to a marker–a blood oath John owes him for helping him complete his Herculean tasks that got him out of the crime world in the first place.
Heading to Italy, John Wick embarks on another Herculean task that will no doubt result in a trail of bodies that will hopefully not end with his own.
One of the greatest, most satisfying aspects of the John Wick series is how cheap life is. And yet, at the center of it all–amidst the brutal, split-second carnage–is John Wick himself, who does cherish some life. He still has a conscience, appreciates life beyond his own and truly seeks for some sort of balance and justice. It is, unfortunately, his need to exact justice among the unjust that puts him in harms way.
Although the only cast member we really care anything about is Keanu Reeves–who finally outsteps and outstrips himself from the surfer bum personas of Ted Logan, Johnny Utah and even Thomas Anderson–there are others who do bring some flavorful dishes to the table.
Fellow Matrix alum Laurence Fishburne makes a decent sized appearance, filling his role with his usual Shakespearean grandeur. Ian McShane (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) returns as the erudite and cultured Continental manager, giving John Wick something resembling an ally in a world out to kill him.
But the additions of Australian actress Ruby Rose and rapper Common leave a bit of an itch on the scalp. Ruby Rose is supposed to be Santino’s right-hand woman, but looks far more like a younger Leonardo DiCaprio than a deceptively dangerous femme fatale. And Common, when he’s not busting into freestyle, is somehow the only man on the planet not in any way intimidated by John Wick’s reputation or proven history. They both seem just a tad out of place in the otherwise dark and gritty world of international high crime.
Varied sources of brilliance from the rest of the film out-glares such questionable choices, however. It moves from opening scene to closing moments at a breakneck (if you’ll pardon the pun) pace where even moments like the montage of John Wick preparing for his murderous night in Rome, seem to pass too quickly. Never has a man getting a suit tailored for him seemed so interesting, so pulse-quickening. Is he going for the Italian cut or sticking with American? Is that a wool blend or Italian silk?
I’m on the edge of my seat.
I would obviously be remiss to not talk about the action sequences. Although John Wick kills with a precision bordering on clinical at times, we are not spared the brutality such a film (and an audience) demands. The locales are also quite different from those in the original film and varied to such an extant, we know which section of the film and what part of the world we are in with split-second awareness.
Ultimately, however, we keep coming back for the story and the man. Grieving widower. Loner. Dog owner. Mass murderer. He is the Punisher in a $7,000 suit. James Bond without the playboy club lifestyle. He is the Boogeyman. He is John Wick. And we love him for it.
Ammo Dump rating: 8 out of 10 bullets…to the head
I’ll talk more about this film and others on the radio every second Saturday, from 7:00-11:00am. Listen in on WJBC-AM1230 in Central Illinois. For the rest of the world, listen on @ALphaEXray.. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter
John Wick: Chapter 2
Run time: 134 minutes (2 hours 14 minutes)