JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 (15, 122 mins)
ALMOST two decades after Keanu Reeves took the red pill from Laurence Fishburne and tumbled down the rabbit hole of The Matrix, the two actors reunite for the hyperviolent sequel to director Chad Stahelski’s rollicking 2014 thriller.
The slaying of a beloved beagle puppy provided the heart-tugging catalyst for the relentless violence of the first film, captured in a series of breathless and balletic sequences.
For the outrageous follow-up, returning scriptwriter Derek Kolstad digs deeper into the mythology of a secret network of hitmen and women, who lurk in the shadows.
A hysterically overblown opening melee sets the scene for the wanton carnage.
Limbs are merrily snapped, skulls cracked against girders and at least one henchman ricochets at high speed off the bonnet of the title character’s car as he slaloms with intent between prey.
The body count in the opening 10 minutes alone verges on the comical.
Unfortunately, the plot underpinning this bone-crunching marathon is disappointingly flimsy, repeatedly flashing back to scenes from the first film to remind us of the grief that propelled the eponymous assassin down this road to blood-spattered redemption.
Having exacted his revenge at the end of the first film, John Wick (Reeves) reclaims his beloved Mustang car and heads home to enjoy his retirement from the killing game.
He buries his weapons beneath a fresh layer of cement in the basement and recalls happier times with his wife (Bridget Moynahan).
Out of the blue, scheming Italian crime lord Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) visits John and implores him to assassinate his sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini).
"I’m not that guy anymore," growls John.
"You’re always that guy," replies Santino coldly.
Alas, the crime lord holds a blood marker and John is obliged to carry out the hit in Rome, where Gianna is under the constant surveillance of her private bodyguard, Cassian (Common).
As the plan comes to fruition, old allies turn against John and he seeks sanctuary at the Continental hotel managed by Winston (Ian McShane), which doesn’t allow murder on its premises.
While Santino and his head of security (Ruby Rose) plot to eliminate John, the hitman calls in a favour from The Bowery King (Fishburne), who presides over a vast network of homeless spies on the city streets.
John Wick: Chapter 2 takes the bruising fisticuffs of the original to the next level, replete with a dizzying showdown in a hall of mirrors reminiscent of the 1974 Bond classic, The Man With The Golden Gun.
Reeves performs many of his stunts and still looks more comfortable wrestling with co-stars than dialogue.
The expertly choreographed brawls and gun fights become repetitious and tiresome - there are any so many exploding craniums that you can take in two hours before the mind wanders.
Released: February 17