John Wick: Chapter 2 - 15, 122 mins, Warner Bros Pictures.
When the original John Wick turned out to be a surprise hit in 2014, it was the left-field, indie-actioner, that brought Keanu Reeves back into prominence, after successes such as Speed and The Matrix Trilogy. Now, here’s the rather inevitable sequel - exactly the sort of undemanding, mindless fare that made similar projects such as the Transporter or Hitman series so popular, in a niche way, with their core audiences - namely teenage boys and video-gamers.
There are plenty of slick action set-pieces that have lots of kinetic energy - super-charged car chases on twilit New York streets, and probably more screen-time given to fighting than actual dialogue scenes. But these seemingly endless, prolonged sequences; a gruelingly violent mixture of hand-to-hand combat and gun-fu (kung-fu with guns, imaginatively), become a little relentless after a while, even though they’re quite viscerally immersive - you do feel every punch.
Keanu Reeves’s performance as the titular assassin, also known as the elusive ‘bogeyman’, reminded me slightly of Daniel Craig’s Bond: very accomplished physically, but so monotone, flat and lifeless when needing to inject any emotional range into the role. His register never changes from being distractingly one-note throughout.
However, there’s a strong, eclectic supporting cast. John Leguizamo’s brief cameo adds much-needed humour to proceedings which otherwise frequently feel either far too serious, or intentionally deadpan. There’s an appealingly stoic, grounded turn from Ian McShane as a subtly authoritarian boss, and even a well-judged surprise for Matrix fans - a welcome reunion for Reeves and Laurence Fishburne, playing a similar mentor figure.
There are some stylish choices: a moment of speed-ramped cinematography, a few nods to multi-cultural, pop-art iconography, and occasional retro, florescent subtitles. Also, there’s an effective, hall-of-mirrors style finale very reminiscent of Scaramanga’s fun-house at the end of The Man With The Golden Gun. All of these elements can’t quite make up for gratuitous shock-tactics and flimsy plotting. But those who don’t mind such shortcomings should enjoy it and of course, the open-ended structure definitely sets up a third chapter. For better or worse, I suspect we’ll be seeing Mr. Wick again soon…
Rating: * *