Courtesy of Lionsgate
“What have you done?”
One of the hardest tasks for any movie is to completely and utterly change the audience’s perception of a character by the time the credits begin scrolling down from the top of the screen. The second film in the John Wick franchise begins with the hitman entering a garage looking to retrieve his stolen Boss 429 Mustang by any means necessary. Residing just upstairs and being asked by an associate why they don’t just eliminate the problem instead of running away from it, Viggo Tarasov’s brother terrifyingly describes John Wick as a man of focus, commitment and sheer will.
If that’s not enough to persuade moviegoers about Mr. Wick’s notoriety, the domineering Russian mobster then refers to the trained assassin as Baba Yaga. This folklore fable is better known in the United States as the boogeyman.
But by the end of the film, the individual who once was feared by even the most powerful beings begins to realize that he himself is now the hunted and must run. With shadows looming all around him, overwhelming tension suddenly consumes the scene. The music subtly changes, transforming fleeting adrenaline into a suffocating anxiety. Suddenly, a cut to black.
I watched John Wick: Chapter 2 for the first time last week and there is no question that the hero’s demise was the most compelling theme present in this feature. By taking swift revenge on another prominent figure from his past, the formerly retired assassin not only finds himself much deeper in the world he once wished to leave but also in a very dangerous circumstance. While familiar faces appear in the sequel like Ian McShane’s Winston and John Leguizamo’s Aurelio, new names enter the franchise like Ruby Rose, Laurence Fishburne, the American rapper known as Common and Riccardo Scamarcio.
While the audience is swept along for the ride in observing the main character’s fall from grace, this was entirely decided by John Wick himself with his actions. Interestingly enough, this seems to be a shared philosophy when it comes to other characters who are destined to meet their demise in this universe. Even with death right in front of him, Marcus happily decides to quicken his execution by attacking two of Viggo’s guards who are standing over him. In the 2017 sequel and with fate standing over her in the form of John Wick, Gianna D’Antonio confidently picks her own poison by slitting both her wrists. While the latter is definitely visually disturbing, the overall ideology presented leaves the viewer with a live free and die hard mantra that is hard to forget.
As the primary antagonist of the movie, Santino D’Antonio is very much a cold hearted villain. Surprisingly, the Italian mafia boss finds a nuanced warmth in his father’s art collection which is displayed throughout a prominent art gallery. Our main character is called to discuss the details of his supposed last mission here. With Santino basking in the glory of a larger than life painting when Mr. Wick first walks in, this snapshot of two men acting in such a meticulous fashion against the backdrop of a chaotic scene felt synonymous with my experience of the franchise so far.
The first film that was directed by Chad Stahelski and produced by Derek Kolstad slowly and tactfully introduced me to this classy and sophisticated world of assassins, markers and gold coins. The second foray on the other hand, unapologetically pulled back the curtains and instead showed the truth about Wick’s world. There is a reason why the dead chose to be free within the last few moments of being alive. No matter how powerful or skilled you might be, these people came to find out that the machine was never built around them. They were instead built around the machine.
Thus, the boogeyman only ever existed for those who were fortunate enough to blindly believe in the lie.
All in all, John Wick: Chapter 2 was surprisingly a rich and enjoyable action sequel. Stay tuned as we conclude our deep dive into the Keanu Reeves led franchise in the coming week with an in depth look at John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.