John Wick: Chapter 2 ***
2014’s John Wick, Keanu Reeves’ first hit in almost a decade, arrived as a brisk, limber counterblast to the excesses of the Marvel and Fast& Furious universes, configured by ex-stuntman Chad Stahelski towards non-virtual, live-on-location fisticuffs. The sequel succumbs to Hollywood inflation, cranking up the budget, volume and running time, and pitching Reeves’ reluctant assassin back into new forms of carnage every fifteen minutes. Climaxing with a gallery shootout that underlines the series’ aspirations to pop art, that carnage can feel videogamey, yet it remains imaginatively designed and executed: Stahelski’s among the few action directors working whose big guns still pointedly demand reloading.
The impact, however, gets muffled by extra layers of the nerdy (under)worldbuilding through which the first movie cut such a stylish dash. Business with metaphysical ledgers and gold coins carries the none-too-thrilling whiff of accountancy; one belated cast addition returns us to the Matrix movies’ torturous footnotes. Any franchise employing Peter Serafinowicz as its Q-via-Alfred figure surely retains some sense of humour about the nonsense it’s peddling, and Chapter 2 will pass a Friday or Saturday night as mindlessly as its predecessor. Yet if the third instalment – excitingly trailed here – runs much beyond two hours, stern objections should be lodged with the ombudsman.
John Wick: Chapter 2 opens in cinemas nationwide today.