"John Wick: Chapter 2," the sequel least likely to suggest anything with actual chapters or anything to read, stars Keanu Reeves in the role of Liam Neeson. Here we are, it's February, and in recent years we've often had a "Taken" sequel in theaters to take our hard-earned money for two hours of recreational sadism. But the solid autumn 2014 success of "John Wick" proved there was space in the universe for a new Neeson, a more youthful exemplar of steely vengeance.
Reeves has headlined plenty of action movies in his career. Now in his early 50s, the actor's in his prime nonverbal grieving phase. It doesn't matter that "John Wick 2" isn't very good, or that it's a step down from the first "John Wick," which played its killing games with more wit. The fans cannot complain about the body count. The semiretired superassassin killed 77 adversaries last time around. The numbers are similar here.
In "Wick: The First One," director Chad Stahelski and screenwriter Derek Kohlstad waited nearly 15 minutes for the violence to begin, and for one of Wick's haters to kill his dog. I will happily spoil it for you: The pup Wick adopted at the end of the first movie is not killed in the sequel. Nor does he do any killing. He's a pacifist surrounded by corpses -- the Desmond Doss of dogs. In a nod to Sergio Leone's Clint Eastwood Westerns, he is also the Dog with No Name. Early in "Wick 2" someone asks: "Does he have a name?" And Wick says: "No." Yet the way Reeves, brow furrowed and voice a whispery rumble, pauses before his line, it appears as if the actor has forgotten the dog's name. Ruh-roh! So he just says no.
As in the first movie, much of the action takes place inside the plush confines of the assassin's Manhattan hotel/club/lounge known as The Continental. (I'd hoped the sequel would've come up with the name of a different Astaire/Rogers dance routine, such as The Piccolino or The Waltz in Swing Time, but you can't have everything.) This is the no-kill zone, according to the rules laid out by the manager (Ian McShane, droll company as always).
Early in "John Wick 2," one of many licensed and bonded guns for hire, the Italian weasel played by Riccardo Scamarcio, visits Wick at home, the brooding place. He presents Wick with a marker, the Coin of Death; this means the recipient must do the bidding of the presenter and his account is settled. Wick declines. One destroyed brooding house later, Wick reconsiders, and travels to Rome to eliminate the guy's sister.
"John Wick 2" stages its gun-fu melees sleekly and sometimes well, from the catacombs of Rome to the subway platforms of New York City. The movie's most intriguing grudge match has Wick squaring off against the bodyguard/associate of the murdered Italian sister. Wick's rival in coolness is played by Common. He deserves his own superassassin franchise, though between WickWorld and the "Kingsman" franchise, I don't know how many more beautifully tailored, blood-spattered suits the assassination bureau marketplace can handle.
Who am I kidding? A lot more, probably. As our real world grows stranger and more brutal by the day, a movie selling weightless ultraviolence, plus nice suits and Keanu Reeves, is like a deep-tissue massage for our jaded, fearful souls.
MPAA rating: R (for strong violence throughout, some language and brief nudity).
Running time: 2:02