They just couldn’t leave it alone. The original John Wick, about an über assassin who’s reluctantly drawn out of retirement, was a near perfect synergy of simple premise and intricate movement — an action movie that danced. But the lightness and winking quality that softened the slaughter are less evident in John Wick: Chapter 2, an altogether more solemn affair weighed down by the philosophy that more is always more.
That means almost doubling the body count as John (Keanu Reeves, still superstoic and hyper-pliable) is once again yanked out of seclusion, this time to fulfill a debt to an Italian mobster by killing the mobster’s sister (Claudia Gerini). The plot matters only inasmuch as it allows the returning director, Chad Stahelski, to stage his spectacular fight sequences in various stunning Roman locations, where they unfold with an almost erotic brutality. In this movie, the camera contemplates weaponry with more lip-licking awe than is ever afforded Gerini’s curves.
John might remind you of James Bond, but he has no interest in the honeys. Carnage is his release, and the camera plays along, gazing up at his aspirational buttocks as he slides a knife from his back pocket, and circling his twisting torso with rapt attention. A brilliantly stylized foreplay sequence is constructed around assassin-related paraphernalia, and both Ian McShane and Laurence Fishburne — as the respective heads of separate killing squads — remind us of madams, pimping death across continents.
Some of this world-building is fun, and almost all of it is dazzling, but the emotional sterility of John’s life will burden a franchise. At some point, he’ll have to care about more than his dog.