At the end of the first John Wick movie, everything seemed to be all wrapped up. Sure, the brutal beating of that puppy probably justified two or three hundred more murders, but in the end the people responsible were held accountable. The only loose end: Wick's car, which had to be recovered in the opening of the sequel.
We find out that the classic Mach 1 Mustang is being held by Abram Tarasov, brother of Viggo, the big crime boss from the first movie. While Wick is working his way through more useless thugs, Abram explains to his associate that The Boogeyman is coming to take his car and there's probably nothing anyone can do to stop him.
A sense of familial duty keeps Abram from just giving the car over without a fight, but even then he doesn't go nearly as far as he could have. If he was really intent on revenge, why not just rig the car to blow up? He could even send a few goons to "protect" it to keep up appearances. Nobody in this crime-ridden universe seems patient enough to play the long game. But we'll get to more of that later -- first we should tackle the really important issues.
One of the coolest things in the John Wick universe is the shadow economy based around secret coins. These Assassin Doubloons are exchanged for all kinds of goods and services in the underworld, from fancy bulletproof suits to hotel suites at the Crime Hotel. At times they seem to have a set value, like how this door takes a single coin for entry.
Presumably the precious metals that make up these coins are worth a substantial amount, so you'd presume that there's a rough value attached to each chip. They could use American dollars if they wanted (and they do, when it comes to bounties), but the Murder Money lets the other killers know you're a part of the special hitman club and can be trusted to follow the rules and etiquette therein.
But that same "club mentality" is what allows the coins to be exchanged for "favors" rather than tangible supplies and equipment. We established earlier that one coin can get you a night or two at The Continental hotel, a sanctuary that promises safe harbor for killers. But in the first movie, Wick hands a coin to a friend as a thank you for babysitting an unconscious person. And according to John Wick Chapter Two, one coin delivered to the hands of the right homeless person can get you a clandestine trip to see the Hobo King Laurence Fishburne. Those are arguably in the same ballpark, but in the first movie Wick calls the cleaners to clear out all the dead bodies out of his house and hands the head Corpse Janitor around ten coins.
A coin used as a "favor" is a pledge of indeterminable value, but that still doesn't explain why these "favors" vary so wildly. For instance, in JW2, Wick and a rival assassin played by Common share a drink. And in exchange for one bourbon and one gin cocktail, the bartender gets... one whole coin!? Holy shit! Either John Wick is the underworld's most generous tipper or barkeeps at the Contintental are pulling down dozens of Crime Doubloons per night.
Look, all I'm saying is basing an entire covert ecosystem around homicidal pirate gold is probably going to bring up some issues of inconsistency.
The second act of the movie largely takes place in Rome, where John Wick has been sent to kill Gianna D'Antonio. Normally Wick would bristle at the idea of killing someone that is about to ascend to the high council, but Gianna's shitheel brother has our hero over a barrel.
And so the hitman who hasn't been seen for years, whose very name evacuates the bowels of every crimelord on the Eastern seaboard, shows up in Rome. And the first thing he does is go shopping.
While Wick is sampling tools of destruction like he's at a fancy wine tasting, all the shopkeepers seem completely oblivious as to why he's in town. Now part of it is that everyone is willingly oblivious to the deeds of their clientele; keeping your nose out of the dirty laundry is just good business. But even so, wouldn't there be some other nearby customers hanging about that might get the word out once they realize Baba Yaga is in town?
Even if the merchants of death figure it's better for their livelihoods to keep their mouth shut, the Rome branch of the Crime Hotel chain has got to be at least a little concerned. John Wick is a legendary assassin, and for him to appear after such a long absence has got to raise some eyebrows. Hell, when the manager of Il Continentale sees John Wick in his establishment, he's worried that the GD Pope is about to get whacked.
So it's clear that something big is definitely about to go down... right before Gianna's coronation... and nobody puts that together. These assassins have been able to kill and bribe their way to creating a vast criminal network with its own currency, but sometimes they're just kind of stupid.
A sanctuary hotel where killers from across the globe come to chill out is a great concept, and John Wick 2 especially puts it to great use in the story. The "hallowed ground" where people who do nothing but kill can do anything but kill is a fantastic plot device. Don't know how to end the fight between Keanu and Common? Have them crash into the Continental window. Then they'll have to pick up their battle another time.
Except the Continental rules only apply while you're in the Continental. Assassins of this caliber know every possible exit to every building they enter -- so it would be pretty easy to just bring a few friends to jump John Wick when he steps outside of the back door. Granted, John Wick would kill them all with a single strand of his own hair, but everyone in this universe seems to think they stand a chance against the Boogeyman anyway. There's no reason that Common -- who has a serious grudge against Wick and is desperate to pick up where their gunfight left off -- wouldn't be waiting in the parking lot for his new archenemy.
Anyone who loved the first movie was probably pretty excited to see the more of the excellent world-building of this fantastic universe. In Chapter Two, we got to see a network of homeless (?) people working under Laurence Fishburne, a room full of tatted-up phone operators apparently living in the 1960s and dozens of new assassins whose brains now stain subway floors and cobblestone streets alike.
But that's just the thing -- it almost seemed like there were more people in the movie who were assassins than those who weren't. Correct me if I'm wrong here, but the only character with a speaking role that isn't directly tied to the criminal underworld is that cop who kindly suggests Wick's house fire was the result of a "gas leak." It makes sense that a movie that centers on a seedy underground world of murderers would focus on said murderers, but we never get the feeling that the world at large is at all shocked by this chain of mass shootings. It would be a pretty disturbing thing to show on in-universe TV screens and kind of ruin the fantasy-violence vibe that makes everything fun instead of horrifying, but as a result it feels a bit less special to be an assassin in this world.
I mean, surely you remember the bit at the end where John Wick is confronted with dozens of assassins who stop on a dime at Winston's say-so.
Was there really no one else in the park that day that was kind of freaked out by a hundred people spontaneously attempting the Mannequin Challenge?
That's not to say these moments aren't cool and/or totally badass, but stacking the odds against John Wick higher and higher brings more assassins into the fold. Eventually the John Wick movies are depicting more of a criminal overworld than a criminal underworld. And that's... actually kind of cool, when you put it like that. Why was I complaining again?Tristan Cooper can be found on Twitter.