John Wick (Keanu Reeves) wanted revenge, and he got it. The gangster who killed the dog his wife gave to him before she died has paid a heavy price, as has everyone associated with him, but John still wants his car back. He knows it is kept in a warehouse/garage in the middle of town, but there are plans in place to prevent him from retrieving it; after following a biker along the streets in a high-speed chase, Wick ends up at the building in question and makes his way in, beating up anyone who gets in his way as the brother (Peter Stormare) of the mob boss he has just killed contemplates pursuing the feud or letting his adversary have his car after all. Wick does get behind the wheel, and smashes up the vehicle in his attempt to leave - but he does prevail.
And therein lay the appeal of the John Wick movies, simply sitting back and watching Keanu destroy a shower of bastards was enough to float the boats of many a seasoned action flick fan, although for the uninitiated the sense of "what, is that it?" was difficult to shake. There was a scene about half an hour in where our bloodied but unbowed hero set about tooling up for a job he had been forced to take, and it was presented like the sequence in Pretty Woman where Richard Gere takes Julia Roberts to all those swanky emporia to deck her out in the most immaculate outfits possible. It all said to the viewer, why yes, this is an experience for the connoisseur, we have pushed the boat out for this one.
As the title suggested, this was the second part in a trilogy which had revealed just how much Reeves had been underestimated, even taken for granted, and how audiences had woken up to precisely what a treasure he was. Not only was he seemingly defying all effects of ageing into his fifties, but stories of his kindness and generosity were now becoming common knowledge, and most importantly his place as a protagonist in action movies was growing more assured as even those who would not class themselves as fans would note what a boon he had been to the genre thanks to his dedication to being as good as he could be in those roles. His acting may have been nothing to write home about, but his physicality was undeniable and impressive.
In this manner you could trace the lineage from the action heroes from the seventies onwards, that was the performers who specialised in that format, right up to Reeves: Charles Bronson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham, those actors with a limited range but a definite presence and ability to carry themselves into the danger that the scripts conjured up for them. Yet somehow Reeves stood apart, thanks to what amounted to a goofy sense of humour in some work and a spiritual aspect in others, making it tempting to class him as a minor icon since there was nobody in his style who was exactly like him. John Wick was a perfect part, and had obviously been tailor made to his strengths, for his dialogue was minimal, and director Chad Stahelski and screenwriter Derek Kolstad served up an abundance of reasons for their star to use his body instead of his voice. That duo were well aware of the history of the genre, hence the cast list was dotted with faces fans of such movies would be very glad to see.
Ian McShane was back as the owner of the hotel which is neutral ground for a seemingly global network of assassins and gangsters who it increasingly looked as if Wick would have to take on instead of retiring, as was Lance Reddick as the enigmatic concierge: give actors like that weaponry and they would not be out of place in the mayhem, yet the film was content with their unspoken charisma. Then there was the pleasure of seeing Franco Nero or Laurence Fishburne show up in short but welcome sequences, bringing with them the import of an entire career, with relative newcomers such as Ruby Rose also ingenious casting given what they could bring to the screen. Maybe the theme that made the first movie special, the loss of love that made Wick rely on himself and no one else, was lacking, but we could appreciate why he was so isolated and single minded nevertheless - it was in every moment of every scene Reeves was in, those stretches where he got to defend himself against an onslaught paramount in that. More of the same, perhaps, but it was sleek and classy for a fantasy about down and dirty murder. Music by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard.