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Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 12:04 am

Wicked Chapter 2 a ballet of violence

Keanu Reeves as John Wick in John Wick: Chapter 2.
PHOTO COURTESY Summit Entertainment


I face a bit of a moral quandary where reviewing John Wick: Chapter 2 is concerned. A beautifully shot and composed film that visually puts most similar Hollywood product to shame, it features Keanu Reeves at his most glacial in the title role of a retired hit man who’s sucked back into an elaborate criminal underworld, the surface of which was only scratched in the first episode of this proposed trilogy that was a surprise hit in 2014.

For those of you unfamiliar with the world of Wick, it’s a place where bones don’t break, skulls never crack, high-octane autos take endless abuse but never stall, and firearms seldom run out of ammo. Its title character casts a long, dark shadow as the mere mention of his name sends icy chills up the spine of even the most hardened gangster, his reputation replete with outlandish tales of him dispatching his targets in the most grisly and imaginative ways possible. (One anecdote speaks of him killing three men with a pencil. In Chapter 2 we do get to see him ice two bad guys with a Ticonderoga #2, so it has been counted as a bit of a disappointment.)

In the first part, Wick went on a rampage because the son of a Russian mobster killed his dog. (In all fairness, the puppy was left to him by his terminally ill wife who was dying of cancer, so the kid had it coming.) In Chapter 2, after proclaiming once again, “I’m not that guy anymore,” Wick is forced to go postal when a debt he must repay is called in. Seems Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) wants his sister offed so that he might take her place at the high table of an international crime organization. Our hero reluctantly holds up his end of the bargain, and for his trouble, finds himself on the run from those who were charged with protecting his victim and D’Antonio’s goons, as well as a myriad of assassins once a $7 million bounty is put on his head.

No, we’re not here for story, we’re here for action, and stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski stages, choreographs and executes the movie’s many scenes of mayhem with a degree of grace and beauty that makes them a wonder to behold. The film’s first sequence is a 15-minute ballet of violence that finds Wick trying to retrieve his car from a group of mobsters who are nothing if not foolishly persistent. Men are run over by cars, guns blaze repeatedly, a motorcyclist is dispatched imaginatively and Reeves hardly breaks a sweat. Yes, this all sounds common, but the manner in which this scene and others in the movie, particularly two hand-to-hand fights with Reeves and Common as fellow hit man Cassian are done with such precision, they put any dance sequence La La Land has to shame.

Really, that’s the only way this film can be approached and appreciated, as an exercise in movement and grace. The choreography of the gun battles are exact, quick and invigorating, many of them done in a bluish silver hue that makes them all the more seductive.

And yet, with gun violence running rampant today, it seems irresponsible to endorse such an exercise. Headshots with the requisite blood-splatter are too numerous to count while the other side of the coin where Stahelski’s style is concerned is always front-and-center – it makes killing look cool.

Only by understanding what the filmmakers are up to can a viewer watch John Wick: Chapter 2 with the appropriate mindset. This should not be seen as a glorification of violence but rather an exercise in art in which a violent aesthetic is at play. That most who flock to this shoot-em-up don’t realize this is where the trouble starts.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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