Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #684
Number of Views: One
Release Date: February 10, 2017
Sub-Genre: Neo-Noir Action Thriller
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $171,500,000
Running Time: 122 minutes
Director: Chad Stahelski
Producers: Basil Iwanyk, Erica Lee
Screenplay: Derek Kolstad
Cinematography: Dan Laustsen
Score: Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard
Editing: Evan Schiff
Studios: Lionsgate, Thunder Road Pictures, 87Eleven Productions
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Bridget Moynahan, Lance Reddick, Thomas Sadoski, David Patrick Kelly, Peter Stormare, Franco Nero, Peter Serafinowicz, Claudia Gerini, Tobias Segal
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Kaleida “Think”
 Le Castle Vania “John Wick Mode”
 Nostalghia & Tyler Bates & Joel J. Richard “Plastic Heart”
 Joel J. Richard Presto “Museum Battle“
You wanted me back… I’m back! Looks like retirement will have to take a back seat for the time being. And to think I could have worked an office job and been presented a gold watch on my final day, for services rendered. Instead I’m going to be required to exert myself, when all I want to do is sit at home and think of what they took from me. When Helen died, I was left with nothing. But the pain. Not the kind that ever goes away, the kind that stays and plays. I’d take every ounce of suffering over numbness. When I looked at her photo, that’s all I felt… nothing at all. Sure, a thousand memories were triggered in unison, but none could ever compare to the feeling of stroking the hair from her face one more time, of falling headlong into her rapturous eyes. The pain, on the other hand, that gave me something to hang onto. When your entire world has been torn apart in the cease of a heartbeat, hanging on is all you can ever hope to do.
Without hope to keep me afloat, I was drowning, sinking deeper into a void that I had no possible means of escape from – myself. That was until that dog arrived on my doorstep. You see, this was her final gift to me. Man’s best friend. It was as though she knew that only a dog could ever understand my pain. Until that moment, grieving just felt like something I would be forced to do alone and I’d accepted that. But a semblance of hope is all it takes and Helen knew that. She knew this would be enough and that my focus, commitment, sheer will and unshakable love for her would do the rest. Self-pity only takes you so far and in completely the wrong direction. Daisy brought me back from the brink and reminded me of the one justifiable reason to continue – for her. So you see, I really had no choice in the matter.
Your choices thin out when you do what I do or did as wishful thinking would have you believe. Focus, commitment and sheer will are three strengths that a hitman is forced to call on most when attempting to stay one marker away from marked for death himself. Chances of ever seeing that gold watch are slim to nothing here, while the odds of knowing a solitary thing about the bullet travelling directly towards your skull before impact are too long for any seasoned gambler to entertain. The very best you can hope for in this game is professional courtesy. Should this be extended and your life be spared, then you’d best be learning those lessons pretty quick as you’ll likely be tested on them again far sooner than you wish.
How’s this for fucked curriculum? He killed my dog. Stole the only thing I had left, my last remaining link to Helen wiped out as a result of pure happenstance. By he I mean Iosef, the piece of shit son of Viggo Tarasov, the kind of self-made Russian tsar who only a dead man walking would ever think of crossing and a man I was very much aware of by way of mutual respect. It was a tough break for Viggo as it can’t be easy when your own flesh and blood implicates you in something that you know full well is not going to end well. But having learned the ropes in the slums of Kiev and worked his way up to boss through his own toil and sweat, Viggo was under no illusion that closure was precisely what was coming. His son had a fair idea too, although ignorance led him to believe that he’d be the one on terminal shutdown duties. Turns out he’d never heard of Baby Yaga and Pops was about to give him a history lesson. Saved me the trouble, at least.
You see, it was his father who coined this nickname in the first place, back when I was the best damn assassin on his roster. It’s not always advisable to be the very best in your chosen field, particularly when your single-minded drive is compromised by your one key weakness – love. I’ve always been of the firm belief that the one special person you’d forsake all others for comes first, second and third in the relationship and Helen performed this very trifecta on me just by donating the very same in return. I knew instantly that the life of a hitman was no longer one I wished to subscribe to, but also that my polite plea for professional pardon would be met by a little request of his own.
There’s a good reason why they call it the impossible task, just as there is for them calling me Baby Yaga, or The Boogeyman for those not versed in Russian. I completed my multi-tiered assignment, the Tarasov syndicate was established, and just as our gentleman’s agreement specified, communications were indefinitely severed. With the capital I’d amassed during my tenure as his number one son, I could buy a whole truck load of gold watches. But I only had my eye on a ring. I’ll never forget the way Helen looked that day or the way the light caught her face as we exchanged our hand-written vows. It’s all I see when I close my eyes and a million miles away every time I open them. The only thing in my sights now was Iosef Tarasov and he had no fucking clue the kind of affliction he’d invited upon his family. While there was still breath in my lungs, I’d kill him. I’d kill them all.
And so I did. However, while that chapter of my life may have been closed, I was perfectly aware that another was about to open and that’s where you join me now. It had been four days since that score was settled and, with my new pit bull by my side, I was right about ready for services to resume with the wallowing. Of course, there was still the small matter of retrieving my 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 from the chop shop, which just so happened to be run by Tarasov’s brother Abram. But his men barely provided me a work-out and it’s not too hard to bring a beaten man round to your way of thinking. I walked away not because he permitted such but because he knew this was never in any doubt. So all’s well that ends well, right? In this game, are you kidding me? Now the fucking Italians want a piece of me.
Santino D’Antonio – he’s one of those sleazy Camorra types, a real smiling assassin and the last man on earth I’d ordinarily turn to in a fix. But turn to him is exactly what I did when trying to complete my last impossible task and this, in turn, has created a whole new assignment every bit as unlikely. That night, Santino swore me to a marker, a blood-oath symbolized by a medallion, that he presented me this evening as a way of securing my services. Turns out he’s looking to take control of a guild of assassins and there’s only one person standing in his way, which is where he reminded me that I come in. I knew what was being ordained before he’d even finished his sentence. You see, his seat at the High Table is currently occupied by none other than his own sister Gianna and blood is evidently not thicker than water where the D’Antonios are concerned.
If I was to reject this marker, then I’d be violating one of two golden rules of the very business I’m obligated to. All markers must be honored – no ifs, buts or maybes – it’s as plain as it is inevitable. No leeway given for rain checks or renegotiation, either I accept the token or the ultimate penance for refusal. I told him to go fuck himself. Naturally I remained civil, although my patience was beginning to wear decidedly thin by this point. My professional courtesy ran out the very second he leveled my home with an explosive warhead. I’ll take his impossible task, play whatever game he has planned, and do whatever dirty work is expected of me. But he’s marked himself for death now and this is one mark I fully intend on honoring.
If I’m headed to Rome, then I shall need to dress accordingly and that’s where my friends at the Continental are only too happy to oblige. Two-button suit, Italian designer, tapered trousers, and lined for tactical usage. My line of credit at the Continental is excellent so any hardware requested has been sent directly to my room and, needless to say, meets all my precise technical specifications. If there’s one thing a trained killer doesn’t have at his disposal then it’s a great deal of margin for error and this is where Helen’s memory is my most formidable weapon. More often than not, mistakes occur through fear of their repercussions. If a stray bullet were to take me out of the game, then that’s one step closer to being reunited with my love, the way I see it. Once the prospect of death grants you this one favor, then really what’s left to fear? There will be no miscalculations here.
My sweet Helen. It was you from the first moment I laid eyes on you and will be you long after my work here is done. I’m lost without you; only here now to honor my vow and a memory that will never ever fade. The truth is that I’m dead already, died the very second you were taken from me. One look into my eyes is all it will ever take to discern such and I won’t rest until Santino D’Antonio does precisely that one more time. I want him to see his end before it arrives, to realize in that fleeting moment that even gentlemen like me can have their off days, and have precious little time to prepare for what he will know by then is inevitable. Final words? Well let’s just say I may extend him the back-handed courtesy of starting his sentence. After that? There will only be one thing left to say. Tell them… tell them all… whoever comes, whoever it is, I’ll kill them. I’ll kill them all.
You know, I reckon that’s the most I’ve heard that guy talk. You see, John Wick has no real reason to fritter valuable syllables. He’s more of your quiet brooding type, the kind of haunted ronin who belongs more in feudal Japan than the present day. Returning screenwriter Derek Kolstad keeps his dialogue sparse, gifting Keanu Reeves the opportunity to truly inhabit the role and locate the very soul of his character. The manner in which he achieves this should go some way to answering his many critics as his bunny rabbit eyes offer exquisite windows to within and are vital tools in securing our emotional investment. They fill in the gaps as to what holds him back and drives him on, making words feel almost superfluous to proceedings.
John Wick is a man of refined taste, as attested by his fine tailored suits, spotless personal grooming, and the car that he drives. Even his weapon selection is made using fine dining as a metaphor and his appreciation for the finer things is as plain as the nose on a Rabbi. However, for a flawlessly as he is presented, Reeves never once shelters us from the battle raging inside him, adding a layer of complexity to the titular character that simply wouldn’t have translated without his 100% commitment. Some bemoan his lack of emotive range and I always pointed them towards his turns in Taylor Hackford’s The Devil’s Advocate and Sam Raimi’s The Gift to diffuse this. Well you can add this performance to the list too as the role of John Wick feels as custom designed for him as his wardrobe.
The original film provided the ideal introduction into the labyrinthine world that Kolstad created back in 2014, but honed in more on John’s personal loss than exploring the dynamics of his professional existence and the strict code of honor he generally abides by. John Wick: Chapter 2 may pick up mere moons from where the predecessor left off but, like its harried lead, is done with looking back into its slipstream. Instead, we’re talking forward momentum all the way and its surge is relentless from the very first taste of tarmac. Every wheel spin delivers us to some place new, presents another pawn in his game, revealing more of the glue that binds each player together.
While our attention seldom strays from the leading man, the colorful cast around him play their part also. Take your pick from Wick regulars Ian McShane, Lance Reddick and John Leguizamo, all of whom provide glorious reprisals of their roles. Or Riccardo Scamarcio as Santino; with the Machiavellian baddie of the piece as impeccably played as he is turned out. Peter Serafinowicz is an inspired choice to play The Sommelier at The Continental, while the casting of the legendary Franco Nero as its manager is one beyond genius. Meanwhile, Reeves’ co-star from The Matrix, Laurence Fishburne, drops enough hints as inner-city assassin, The Bowery King, to suggest he is going to be a key player in the planned third installment and I’ve yet to watch a movie that didn’t benefit from Peter Stormare’s inclusion.
However, my personal darlings here are Ruby Rose as Santino’s mute acolyte Ares, whose signed back and forths with our main man are a joy to observe; and rapper cum screen actor Common as the bodyguard of Wick’s target, Cassian. The latter in particular proves to be pretty much John’s equal, both in physicality and intelligence, and the moment where they interrupt their incessant sparring to share a drink together like gentlemen before resuming reveals layers of depth to a character who could so easily have been cookie cutter. And that’s the point I’m making about John Wick: Chapter 2 – none of the countless chief players feel dispensable or merely cosmetic. Every last one belongs.
Visually, returning director and former stuntman Chad Stahelski paints from the same palette of jades, indigos and neon pinks as great Dane Nicolas Winding Refn, whether lighting New York subways with bright fuchsia fluorescents or the arches of ancient catacombs with police strobe blues, he ensures that the whole kit and caboodle remains slick enough to lick from stem to stern. His vision is fully supported by crackerjack cinematographer Dan Laustsen, whose numerous credits include Guillermo del Toro’s optically dazzling period chiller, Crimson Peak, and this culminates in a number of swanky set-pieces, including a gloriously ostentatious showdown in a hall of mirrors.
Ultimately however, it’s the action we all paid to see and John Wick: Chapter 2 boasts an absolute deluge of crunching bones and thundering shrapnel to ignite our inner firestarter. From the very moment Wick bursts out the traps using his beloved Mustang as a motorized battering ram, to the very last chamber emptied, opportunities to catch our breath are as few as they are fleeting. Calling to mind the kind of high-octane skirmish that Hong Kong cinema has specialized in for a quarter of a century now, the fights are expertly choreographed both in hand-to-hand and gun-toting combat. Indeed, there’s a fluency to each bruising encounter that could easily be compared to ballet, such is the utter precision on display.
When the kills come, and trust me the body count is astronomical second time around, Stahelski isn’t shy in getting up-close-and-personal, the one constant being that it’s seldom anything less than seamless. In case you were wondering, Reeves performs almost all of his own stunts, showing just how dedicated he is to inhabiting his character. John Wick: Chapter 2 is his movie, make no mistake about that, and the franchise continues to reveal qualities that effortlessly set it apart from the Bonds, Bournes and Mission Impossibles of this world. Where he goes from here is anyone’s guess but one thing’s certainly not in question – there really is no cooler cat in the business than The Boogeyman. We wanted him back and, on this evidence, Mr. Wick, his three-piece suit, and trusty pit bull are only just getting started. He never was very good at retiring.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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