Sunday, June 11, 2017

Video review: "John Wick 2"

The best thing about the John Wick movies is that they do not pretend to be anything other than what they are: slick, ultra-violent escapism that mixes a grim revenge saga with gallows humor.

Keanu Reeves reprises his role as the reluctant hitman pulled back into a world of murder and double-crosses. Also returning is screenwriter Derek Kolstad, who dreamed up this nutty, vibrant world, and Chad Stahelski, a longtime stuntman and coordinator handpicked as director.

The actors and crew seem perfectly aligned in their goal, which is to deliver kick-ass mayhem with a minimum of fat or fuss.

Things pick up almost exactly where they left off. Wick completes his revenge on the Russian mobsters who killed his dog and stole his classic Mustang, with much damage to said pony car. Then new trouble surfaces: Santino D’Antonio (Ricardo Scamarcio), an Italian crime lord who wants Wick to knock off his sister so he can take her seat at the High Table – a sort of United Nations for villains.

Wick takes some convincing, but finally takes on the assignment.

There’s the usual army of disposable henchmen to take on, as well as a few elites: Common and Ruby Rose play veteran assassins who know Wick’s reputation from the old days. Wick gives better than he gets, but he still gets gradually worn down: pummeled, slashed, shot. He keeps going, if a bit more awkwardly with each step.

The stunts are the star of “John Wick 2,” and it’s a thrilling mix of amazing action that happens at a believable speed. Stahelski largely shoots Reeves in full body without a lot of cuts, so we can actually see the violence play out.

The ending makes no pretenses about setting up a “John Wick 3,” and I for one am happy to sign on for another ride.

Bonus features are good, anchored by a feature-length commentary track with Reeves and Stahelski. The best commentaries usually include input from both stars and filmmakers. The DVD edition also has two featurettes:  “As Above, So Below: The Underworld of John Wick” and “RetroWick: Exploring the Unexpected Success of John Wick.”

Upgrade to the Blu-ray version, and you add seven more featurettes touching on various aspects of production, including a “Kill Count” just in case you were wondering how many people Wick offs during the movie. (It’s impressive.) Finally, there is a bonus short film, “Dog Wick.”



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