Unless we’re talking about Star Wars, it is very rare for a sequel to surpass the original, but I think John Wick Chapter 2 qualifies. Picking up four days after the conclusion of the first movie, Chapter 2 takes us through the continuing trials of would-like-to-remain-retired hitman John Wick. His vengeance completed, John is perfectly content to return to retired life with his new dog that he rescued in the previous film. However…fate seems to be out to get him as he is dropped in on by Santino D’Antonio, an Italian gangster to whom John owes a huge favor. See, it so happens that in the course of fulfilling his “impossible task” for Victor, Santino provided some invaluable service to make it possible. And as a result, John gave Santino what is known in the underworld as a “marker.”
Basically, if you grant someone a marker, you’re saying that at some time in the future you are binding yourself to do whatever task that person asks of you, no exceptions. And also no getting out of it either: even though John begs Santino to not call the marker in, the Italian persists, and when John still refuses? He blows John’s gorgeous house up (the puppy lives!!!) and Winston firmly reminds John that he can’t ignore this. This is the other inviolable rule of the underworld: all markers MUST be honored. If you refuse, you die. If you attempt to run, you die and if you kill the person holding the marker, you most definitely die.
So what does Santino want done so badly that he blew up John’s house? Oh nothing much, he just wants his sister murdered so he can take her place at “The High Table” (the gathering of all the criminal heads of the underworld). If John does this, Santino swears that will fulfill the marker. What he doesn’t mention, however, is that once his sister is dead (she actually commits suicide and John shoots her afterward to technically fulfill his contract) Santino wants John dead as well to get rid of any “loose ends.” I really loved this entire sequence set in Rome. The whole set up of John checking into the city’s Continental hotel and then acquiring everything he needs for the hit and talking about it in the most civilized terms.
For example, John asks the hotel clerk if he can see the sommelier (which ordinarily refers to a wine specialist). But in the Continental, the “sommelier” is an expert on all kinds of weapons. So, John and the sommelier discuss what guns (and other weapons) he will need in the exact same terms one talks about fine wines (appetizer, main course, dessert, etc.). He also visits a tailor (for a bulletproof suit that would be the envy of James Bond) and other establishments, always paying in those same gold coins from the previous film. It’s a fascinating sequence because it reveals this whole world that’s hiding in plain sight (and as I said before, I love those kinds of stories).
Once John escapes the hit squad sent after him, Santino (being rather stupid) has a hit put out on John, a $7 million hit to be precise. And here is the most fascinating sequence of all: we get to see HOW this is accomplished. If someone wants a hit put out, they call “Accounts Receivable” where all these ladies are working old-fashioned switchboards and typewriters (I’m not sure if its for aesthetic reasons or what, but all their technology is old-fashioned) and there are files on everyone in the underworld. So once they give a code to verify who they are, they name the target, how much the hit is worth, is it international, open or closed (if it’s open that means anyone can claim it) and when does it take effect. And once all of this is filled out, there’s a sequence where we see a computer auto-dialing all of these numbers with the relevant information.
And what’s even more mind-blowing? The revelation that there are assassins EVERYWHERE, in all kinds of professions. Since very few people could resist a $7 million bounty (and the chance to take out John Wick), the hit man has a big problem on his hands as, once he returns to New York City, just about everyone he encounters is out to get him. This leads to another montage of John fighting assassin after assassin (and getting more injured all the time). Thoroughly frustrated, John makes his way to the “Bowery King”, another underworld figure with a huge organization (most of his force consists of those homeless people you see on the street corners in NYC). John convinces the Bowery King to help him get to Santino when he reminds him that if Santino comes to power he intends to take over New York City completely, there won’t be any room for the Bowery King or anyone else.
The last part of the film is where things get a little crazy: after pursuing Santino through an art exhibit (and killing dozens of Santino’s guards along the way), he corners the gangster in the Continental where, it turns out, Santino is planning to live permanently (which would make him untouchable). Winston, seeing how angry John really is, attempts to talk him down from doing anything stupid but at this point, John doesn’t care about the consequences, so before anyone can stop him….BANG! Santino is dead. Inside the Continental. John has broken the number one rule of the underworld: you NEVER conduct business inside the Continental.
By rights John should be executed (and I think he knows it) but Winston can’t quite bring himself to give the order. So, he has John meet him in a park and lets him know the following:
- The bounty on his head will be doubled (that’s $14 million)
- It is now an international hit (anyone in the world can come after him)
- He is excommunicado meaning he has lost all rights and privileges to all services in the Underworld. No more Continental, secret shops, NOTHING.
However, to give John a fighting chance, Winston also adds that the new hit won’t go active for an hour, he has that long to make himself scarce. And then comes a scene that chilled me to the bone: when John asks Winston why he isn’t already dead, Winston signals to one of his guards who says “Now” into a phone. At that moment, everyone around the fountain in the park stops and looks at John, revealing (I think) that he’s been surrounded by assassins this entire time. As the hour starts, John walks away with his dog while we hear Winston placing the order with Accounts Receivable. As John continues to move through the park, phones begin to ring around him. But as we don’t see the messages being received, there’s no way for us (the audience) to know if these are assassins receiving the information or simply regular people going about their lives. John doesn’t know either, and in his paranoia, he takes off running, his dog jogging beside him. And that’s where the story ends!!
Of course, since a third film has already been announced, it’s obvious that John will get away in the short term (not to mention he’s promised to kill anyone who comes after him), but so many questions remain. For one, where will all of this end? Part of me suspects that this is going to end with John dead and therefore finally reuniting with his wife. But there’s something else in play: Winston gave John a marker in the park. Does this mean Winston owes John a favor now? There are so many questions, but we won’t get any answers until 2019.
And there’s my thoughts on John Wick: Chapter 2. It’s such a great film, I really wish I’d gone to see it in theaters (I definitely won’t miss the third installment).
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