One night in Spokane, an old college professor of mine set up a screening at the Magic Lantern. For the longest time, the Magic Lantern was the only real place in Spokane to see the independent films I often sought out. On this particular night, my professor was hosting a screening of Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men. I don’t remember the particular reason for it being shown (other than being a stone-cold classic), but what I have always remembered – even 6 years later – are the gunshot sound effects. When Clive Owen is desperately trying to guide Key and her baby Diego through a greyed-out war zone, the constant, terrifying buzz of war is punctuated by some of the loudest gun shots I have ever heard or felt in a theater. Each one sounded like it hurt. Like it meant something. Like there was no way it could be fired without lives immediately being attached to it.
I had never heard gunshots like that in a theater until John Wick: Chapter 2.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
There’s a lot of things that John Wick: Chapter 2 does well – it stages clear, dynamic action in ever-escalating, always unique ways, it injects small doses of clever, dark humor, and it has far more fun (and success) with subtitles than it does actual translation – but the best special effect the movie uses is the most analog: the percussive, never-quite-numbing sound of gunshots. They sound fresh. They sound alive. They sound like the true enemy of silence.
This film sees John Wick send 128 men to the grave. That’s a lot of bullets. All of them feel so emphatic as to beg you to find deeper meaning in the sound. There’s barely a soundtrack beneath the gun shots; there doesn’t need to be. It provides it’s own score, an accumulation of sin and occasional good, dirty fun.
The most impressive thing this movie does is that it willingly divorces itself from what sets it apart. The first John Wick introduced a delightful concept in the Continental Hotel – a place where assassins could gather under the one rule they cannot do business on the premises. Chapter 2 takes the concept a few steps further by introducing a Continental chain that at least extends to Europe, as well as its own money system. It even peppers in bits of mythology – always mentioned, but never a victim of exposition – that only ratchet up the giddy fun the movie always threatens to break out into.
And then it throws it all away. It gives us a John Wick who, aside from his adorable new dog, truly has nothing. It announces its ending and its possible future with story intent as loud as the gun shots that echo throughout it. Who knows where the story will lead? But the shots tell us all we need to know: these guys aren’t screwing around; they’re playing for keeps.