'John Wick, Chapter 2': A 'Violent Ballet' Of Action

Feb 10, 2017
Originally published on February 10, 2017 5:35 pm
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Keanu Reeves played a reluctant assassin in the movie "John Wick" a few years back. The elegance of the film's action scenes directed by a former stuntman took audiences by surprise. Now comes "John Wick: Chapter Two," and while the surprise might be gone, critic Bob Mondello says the stunts are still like ballet - really violent ballet.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Practically the first thing on screen is a motorcycle crash projected on the side of a New York City skyscraper. You hear the roar of engines, the squeal of tires neatly in sync with the action sequence being projected on the building, but then a real Harley skitters out of a real alley down below, followed at alarming speed by the guy who must have been riding it. What follows is the sort of preposterously over-the-top chase scene most directors would use to end a movie. Here it's just Director Chad Stahelski clearing his throat and clearing the decks, as it were.

The first "John Wick" film featured a dead puppy, a stolen car and a hero who really wanted to quit the assassin game. This one picks up with Wick getting his car back, but now he finds he can't quit.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2")

KEANU REEVES: (As John Wick) I'm not that guy anymore.

RICCARDO SCAMARCIO: (As Santino D'Antonio) You're always that guy, John.

MONDELLO: At least until his producers have made a stab - literally with all the knives on screen - at turning his saga into a 007-style franchise. There's a power structure that governs his actions.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2")

SCAMARCIO: (As Santino D'Antonio) If you don't do this, you know the consequences.

MONDELLO: Also a chain of super-elegant, assassins-only hotels where when the sommelier talks German varietals, he means guns, not wines, and where the tailors who make Wick's all-black formalwear offer special features not offered by most haberdashers.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) How many buttons?

REEVES: (As John Wick) Two.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Trousers?

REEVES: (As John Wick) Tapered.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) How about the lining?

REEVES: (As John Wick) Tactical.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Cutting-edge body armor - we just sew it between the fabric.

MONDELLO: Though Keanu Reeves establishes that the title character can converse casually in sign language as well as Italian, English and Russian, he tends to make his most persuasive arguments with his fists. And of course, he's fluent in gunfire, as his "Matrix" buddy Laurence Fishburne intuits, playing an underworld lord of the Bowery.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2")

LAURENCE FISHBURNE: (As Bowery King) Somebody please get this man a gun.

MONDELLO: Director Stahelski, as befits a former stuntman, choreographs fights, sending whole platoons of thugs after his star and letting Wick jete them into submission. Kicking guns across plazas, turning clinches into chokeholds, Reeves is the director's Nureyev, subduing foes in halls of mirrors, backlit Roman grottoes, backlit subway stations - backlit being key. The director loves glass, whether it's shattering or just lit from behind to show off bloody handprints.

Does all this add up to anything - well, decorative mayhem I guess, as stylish as it is mindless. Call it pulpy fiction for moviegoers craving distraction from the pummeling they're getting in the real world. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.