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March 22, 2017

‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ is a grand orchestra of frenetic violence

(Official John Wick Chapter 2 Facebook Page)

John Wick is really bad at retirement. Just when the world seems to have let him vanish away to the quiet life he so desires–casually playing fetch with his dog and drinking bourbon like the classy man he is–opportunity comes knocking at his door (literally) and sends him back into the crossfire of assassination. However, the question isn’t whether or not John can survive the new dangers that await him, but rather, how many buttons should his new suit have?

For those unfamiliar with the original film, “John Wick,” starring Keanu Reeves, is about a recently retired hit man forced out of retirement when everything is taken from him in one tragic night.

Part story of revenge, part personal discovery, “John Wick: Chapter 2” follows the titular character on a journey to make all those responsible pay for what they’ve done to him. It’s through this murderous rampage that he is sucked back into the world he once desired so much to leave, relinquishing any chance of a peaceful existence behind.

In “John Wick: Chapter 2,” the legendary assassin is once again forced out of retirement. However, this time, it’s to fulfill a debt to an old colleague. Betrayals break promises, mayhem ensues, and the body count only continues to rise as John must make tough, life-changing decisions in order to prevent war from erupting among his fellow assassin colleagues.

While at first glance this may sound like your standard story of revenge, “John Wick: Chapter 2” creates and expands on a well-thought-out universe of underground societies and exclusive clubs, a universe that sets it apart from any other action franchise. This isn’t just a world of assassin versus assassin; it’s a highly sophisticated and elegant organization that relies on a strict code of conduct that everyone must follow.

A great example of this world’s richness is the Continental–a chain of hotels that act as safe havens for assassins. One of the most strictly enforced rules is that blood must never be shed upon the grounds of any Continental, which leads to some fascinating–and sometimes amusing–halts in violence when the fighting crosses the hotel property line.

A world can only be as good as the characters within it, and luckily, this film is full of interesting people to discover. John, while practically unstoppable even when the odds are completely stacked against him, comes from a very dark and sad past. A man of few words, he has more than a professional vendetta to pursue. Strings from long past relationships are severed, and although adequately suited with money, weaponry and friends, he is still someone who knows he has nothing left to lose.

Following the title character, we have Winston (Ian McShane), who manages the New York Continental hotel and acts as one of John’s closest allies. He’s a man of mystery, but the spark of friendship that he and John share could just be enough to save his life.

Another big addition to the film is Bowery King, played by Laurence Fishburne. This is the first time Fishburne and Reeves have worked together since filming “The Matrix” trilogy in the late 90s and early 2000s; and while his character is pretty small at this point–severely lacking in screen time–it’s exciting to think of what the universe may have in store for him in future installments.

While the world building and characters are fantastic, the acting leaves something to be desired. Reeves is known for his muted emotions, and although he may be an expert with the quick and brutal violence of the film, his delivery as the master assassin is OK at best. Reeves’ dialogue often feels awkward, forced and borderline cringe-worthy. At times, it’s hard to tell if this awkwardness is intentional or accidental.

All of this being said, the true star of “John Wick: Chapter Two” is the relentless action. More than half of the two-hour running time is filled with brutal and intense close-quarters combat. Wick is the conductor of an orchestra of frenetic violence, with every gunfight being comprised of dozens of moving parts that all come together to create a truly chaotic and mesmerizing experience.

Reeves shows once again why he’s a gun-fu master, as he switches seamlessly between rapid gunplay to intimate, gruesome hand-to-hand combat that speaks volumes to the intricacy of director Chad Stahelski’s design. The things he has Wick do with a pencil…

Action films can feel like a dime a dozen nowadays, but “John Wick: Chapter 2” is the intricate and well-worthy sequel of an already fantastic action flick. The violence is loud and relentless, while the world surrounding the assassins is unique and full of mystery. While the acting isn’t fantastic, the characters are still genuine enough to maintain one’s attention. Who knows, maybe one day John will finally be able to drink his glass of bourbon in peace.

Charlie Turner can be reached at chturner@umass.edu.

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