SCREEN GRABS Taking place about five minutes after the last one ended, John Wick: Chapter 2 has Keanu Reeves’ puppy-eyed unstoppable killing machine forced back into the business by Santino (Riccardo Scamarcio), who wants his sister out of the way so he can assume her place ruling the Italian mafia. That’s the domino that causes about 10,000 more to fall — hitmen, that is, who in this giddy cartoon first-shooter-game universe John must slay in bulk, often in crowded settings, while miraculously bystanders not only don’t get harmed, they barely even notice.
Bigger and duly better, stunt coordinator-turned-director Chad Stahelski’s sequel to his 2014 sleeper hit actually does what James Bond movies aim for better than they have lately: It offers a preposterous macho action fantasy luxury-packaged in an equally outré fantasy of decadent jet-setting sophistication. The bullet ballets are terrific, the mano-a-mano stuff almost as good as the Raid movies. The lighting is as baroque in hue as a recent Nicolas Winding Refn joint (or a late 70s Dario Argento one), and there’s a climax that reaches all the way back to Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai.
The cast, too, feels like an assembly of refined, expensive in-jokes, not so much offering characters as a first-class glitter of recognition. Giving off that requisite winky sheen is everyone from Common and Orange Is the New Black’s Ruby Rose (who notably also surfaced in the last xXxmovie’s cheesier monomania wet dream) to such variably old-school brands as John Leguizamo, Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane and Franco Nero. (The latter may provide yet another totemic cineaste reference point: This is certainly a better Django update than either of the last two Tarantino movies.)
As enjoyable a ride as it is, it’s also a little too weirdly apt such a fantasy for the delusional-narcissist Trump era. After all, our hero here is another invincible superman whom nobody can “really know” even though he’s a “legend” to all. Also, he’s not paranoid, because everybody IS out to get him.
This extreme I-am-the-center-of-the-