There was once a very angry, very frightening man. He lived alone except for a nameless dog. Until an old friend blew up his house . . .
Only a year after his first on-screen outing, The Boogeyman is back at it again in John Wick: Chapter 2. Before we get into this, let’s be clear – despite the fact that what follows may seem like evidence to the contrary, I did actually enjoy the film. Though not nearly as much as the first.
Let’s start with the script. The majority of the dialogue sounds like a first draft script that someone forgot to amend. The conversations sound recycled at best, and redundant at worst, thanks to the majority of the backstory having been explained by the character of Ian “Exposition” McShane. As a result, the hollow conversations that made the final cut serve no purpose in the plot, and add nothing to the film, or the characters. To some extent, John Wick may well have had more believability as a mute – a silent, ominous assassin, a symbol of something more than a single man. That’s what made the phone call from the first film – the one in which he didn’t say a word – so effective. The Boogeyman doesn’t need to explain himself, because everyone knows who he is, and what happens if they cross him. If you beat up The Boogeyman, steal his car, and kill his dog, The Boogeyman is coming to get you. Simple, intimidating – and cool. In other words, unless you’re going to give John Wick something smart, funny, or in any way consequential to say, don’t make him say anything at all. Let him do what he does best, and spare us all from the cringeworthy one-liners.
I think that was what made the first film different from, and better than, the second; it didn’t try to overcomplicate things. It was a badass, bloodthirsty revenge flick with very few main players, and a whole lot of dead henchmen. But that formula didn’t have quite the same effect the second time around, with nothing new or interesting to add.
The opening scene was the highlight of the movie for me. I mean, as opening scenes go, it was pretty damn cool. It had a car chase, it had a shoot out, it had hand-to-hand combat. Though one does have to wonder just how John could have continued all but unscathed after using his poor Mustang as a battering ram. When he got knocked over by a car in John Wick, he was knocked unconscious, and woke to find himself tied up in a warehouse.
Apparently, in Chapter 2, he’s impervious to cars as well as bullets.
The plot of John Wick: Chapter 2 is simple enough, if a little contrived. John Wick is called back into the life he tried to leave behind by an influential character from his past, who comes to him with a foolhardy mission that he has no choice but to accept. After protesting that he’s retired, burying his armoury under cement, and having his house blown up, he decides he can’t escape the ‘marker’ he’s been handed, and must continue. Bit of a deus ex machina. Introducing a fundamental plot device that is obvious to the characters, but has never even been mentioned on-screen before, is dangerous territory, especially if you expect the audience to swallow it up after only a brief explanation from old Winston. Granted, the filmmakers most likely only devised the markers after getting the go ahead for a sequel. Also granted that I’m looking way too deeply into a plot device used as an excuse to get John Wick killing again. Even so, it runs the risk of entering the ‘forget-everything-you-think-you-know-about’ cliche, which can prove fatal to a film such as this.
As with the first film, the real MVP of John Wick: Chapter 2 is the fight choreographer, and the actors/stuntmen for executing the scenes so deftly (and cooly). Awesome choreography makes moments that have the potential to be laughable in this kind of shoot-em-up film enjoyable, rather than silly. One notable exception, however, would be John and Cassian rolling down three sets of stone steps in Italy while fighting, hitting the bottom, and continuing all but unscathed. That was pretty laughable, and titter I did. The pace of the film was a little jarring at times, too. It was either long, well choreographed fight scenes, or stilted, awkward, and inconsequential conversations with forgettable characters.
That being said, I did squeal a little when Morpheus – sorry, the King (?) – came on screen. Will you take the white pigeon, or the brown pigeon? Matrix nostalgia aside, even his character felt pretty redundant. The Boogeyman had no trouble seeking out his enemies alone in the first film. I know there’s a contract out on him by the time he goes to see Morpheus, but he goes to him for help moving underground to avoid all of the people trying to kill him, only to pop out of a tunnel and happily walks straight into a party full of hit men and bodyguards – trying to kill him.
I don’t think you thought this through, John.
Also, although the character calls himself the King, I’m not entirely sure what he rules over. The underground? Messages and SIM cards? Pigeons? A homeless network who have the advantage of moving through the city unseen, despite John Wick recognising one of them instantly as a member of the society, and asking to be taken to their leader? Shhh, it’s a secret.
But I digress. The gun shopping scene in Italy was pretty cool and stylish, and included a nice little cameo from Peter Serafinowicz (Pete! Garthan Saal!). I also liked the literal suit of armour/bulletproof jacket lining, and would love to know if that’s a real thing (though I think not). Shout out to the concierge, too, for putting up with a whole lot of assassin-ness again – and for dog-sitting. I felt pretty indifferent about Ruby Rose’s character, though. Yes, she’s hot. Yes, she’s flavour of the month. But she was on the screen early on until the end; if you want me to believe that she lasted that long in a film where The Boogeyman is killing five guys a second, you better show me kick-ass skills of hers. She shoots a lot, and fights a little, and after a short fight with John in the art gallery, she’s dead. A tip – don’t just hire a badass looking girl to look badass. Give the girl a backstory, a decent scrap, and a reason for being in – and surviving most of – the film. I thought her signing was pretty cool, though, and also served to show what a polyglot Mr Wick is.
It seems that John Wick: Chapter 2 went for style over substance, and even the coolest fight scenes couldn’t compensate entirely for a lacklustre script, and hollow plot. All in all, there were some parts to be enjoyed, some parts that needed work, and some parts that were a little silly.
Did it promise to be a well-thought out, well-grounded thriller? No. Did I go in expecting it to be? No. Did I enjoy it? Yes.
Would I watch it again? Probably not.
But hey, at least the dog survived this one.
Two and a half guns out of five.