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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Soundtrack Review: #JohnWickChapter2

John Wick: Chapter 2 - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack elevates the bloodbath and our appreciation of this burgeoning franchise.

Review by Matt Cummings

John Wick: Chapter 2 is perhaps the best film so far of 2017. Filled with enough violence to keep "Room Service" busy, the movie also incorporates a surprisingly rewarding story. By film's end, Wick is on the run from literally everyone, a victim of the rules that first brought him fame as The Boogeyman. This isn't what I would have expected from Director Chad Stahelski's carnage, that his titular hero would now be wanted by every assassin in the world for killing on Continental grounds. Central to my appreciation of Chapter 2 is its soundtrack, a deftly mix of orchestrations, guitar play, and rock anthems that elevates the bloodbath into new and unexpected territory.

Assassin John Wick (Reeves) has a hard time retiring, whether it's in the pursuit of his stolen Mustang or in the "offer of employment" that comes soon after he has car back in hand. That offer comes in the form of a blood mark from Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), who helped Wick escape the life years before. When Wick denies Santino's request, he comes under (literal) fire from his kill squad and the dangerous mute Ares (Ruby Rose), which devastates his house. Forced into a contract that he must honor, Wick is pitted against the skilled bodyguard Cassian (Common), whose defense of Wick's mark is more personal than professional. After D'Antonio offers a warrant for Wick's head, The Boogeyman must parry his way through multiple assassins, leading to a bloody showdown at the famous Continental Hotel. There, manager Winston (Ian McShane) must make an impossible decision whether or not to honor the hard rules of the Continental: no blood be spilled on its floors. The result will lead to chaos, pitting Wick against the entire assassin community, with the promise that anyone who comes after him will die.

Chapter 2 is composed by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard, who composed the first John Wick. Bates is also featured on my list of composers for his work on 300, which was one of my favorite scores of 2006. Again, Bates and Richard forge new territory with Chapter 2, never relying too much on their past success to drive the current tone. As a result, tracks are out of order, starting off with the operatic rock Plastic Heart, performed by Ciscandra Nostalghia. It's an important moment in the movie, as Wick moves beyond vengeance master and back into his old life as a cut-throat assassin. It's the side of Wick we've always wanted to see, but it's also a moment in which Wick matures right in front of us, holding the hand of a victim before annihilating her. From there, the tracklist moves back to the traditional score, but features many different types of orchestrations. Bates uses violins and even a mandolin in tracks like Santino to create a dark atmospheric sound that perfectly fits the mood.

Bates and Richard blend tracks 2-6 effortlessly, so much so that I couldn't quite tell where each began and ended. Man of Focus is an example of this, part Wick anthem but also filled with one of my favorite tracks - Guns & Turtlenecks - which perfectly embodies who John Wick is: a stylish but deadly assassin whose moniker The Boogeyman is well-deserved. Suits, Maps & Guns is another such track, setting up the moments when Wick gets his toys from the Sommelier. Musically, they're reprises of all the elements featured in the score, and they're a great place to start if you're still on the fence about purchasing it. And even after those, if you're still on the fence check out John Wick Mode, performed by Le Castle. It features an impressive dance club beat in the vein of Tron: Legacy.

Some tracks are very short like Walk to Museum or Fountain Foes (a fave of mine) but they're not done cheaply or thrown in to pad the score. And longer ones - like track 15's Razor Bath - never bore, either. Again, they expand the John Wick story beyond the simple Gun-Fu moments, and in that way also expand the music into exciting new territories. The 23 tracks distributed by Varèse Sarabande Records never miss out on the technical details, as we're treated to excellent sound quality with no pops or compression issues. I also have to throw a shout-out to track 19's Knives on a Train which features some killer drum fills as Wick and Cassian go at it.

This year is already featuring some great soundtrack music, led by the impressive John Wick: Chapter 2 – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Bates and Richards pull together a terrific mix of studio orchestrations and rock music to fill out the story of The Boogeyman in a way that gets me excited for the impending Chapter 3. It also makes me want to check out the unique sound of Ciscandra Nostalghia; in that way alone, I consider the soundtrack to be a success. In ending my thoughts about the movie, I can't wait to see what the franchise has in store for our hero and now I'm equally excited to hear how Bates and Richards might paint that soundscape.

John Wick: Chapter 2 – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is available now digitally, with a CD following on March 3, 2017.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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