There is a certain greatness to films that know what they want to be and go out and execute that plan with panache. “John Wick: Chapter 2” is the sort of film that is going to turn off a lot of people at the very idea of a stylized Keanu Reeves-shoots-lots-of-people sequel. On the other hand, if you want an action movie where the blood flies, the fight sequences are enjoyable, and there’s just enough story and world building to keep you interested in the less gun-based moments, “John Wick: Chapter 2” is excellent.
Directed by Chad Stahelski, the sequel follows closely on the heels of the 2014 original, telling the tale of John Wick (Reeves), a man who was at one time the best assassin out there but left the world when he met the love of his life. In the first film, after losing his wife, Wick is pulled back into the assassin’s life (what was he going to do, they killed his dog). Now, in the second film, he’s finding more than a little trouble getting back out of the life as a debt he owes to one man, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), needs to be paid.
As one might expect from a sequel, “John Wick: Chapter 2” does indeed attempt to flesh out the world we saw in the original, and it is relatively successful in this goal. There is a shadowy organization that overseas all this assassin stuff which plays into the plot, and we are taken to a European hotel which follows the same rules as the one in New York, and we meet more members of whatever union this is that organizes all the killings. It doesn’t really all make sense on screen, but there is definitely an indication that someone, somewhere, has a ream of paper detailing just how the underworld in the film is organized. Presumably if/when we get “John Wick: Chapter 3,” more of the mechanics will be divulged.
Ian McShane and Lance Reddick both reprise their roles from the original film while added to the mix this time are the likes of Laurence Fishburne (in a “Matrix” reunion sure to please fans of both franchises), Common, and Ruby Rose. Wick goes up against the characters portrayed by these last two in some pretty energetic battles, and both Common and Rose are more than charismatic in their parts. One of the things this movie really does quite well is offer up the notion that everyone has a backstory, everyone has a history, and those in the audience will certainly want to know more about all these folks.
Is it silly? Oh, absolutely – “John Wick: Chapter 2” is downright silly, but it is a movie that is well aware of its own over the top nature. That is, the movie is in on the joke, and because of that it all works better than it otherwise might.
The only thing Keanu and company take seriously here is the action – and that is tremendous. It is loud, it is brutal, and very exciting to watch unfold. You will read about it being called “gun fu,” but if you’re unfamiliar with the term or its origins, perhaps the best way to think about it is as almost ballet, but with guns. The action sequences are fast and moves are precise. It is all highly orchestrated in ways that would feel improbable in reality, but which succeed in the context of the film.
Working hand-in-hand with the action sequences is the look of the film (Dan Laustsen serves as DP). While many of the fights take place at night or in darkened areas, things are never so dark that blood can’t be seen flying from bodies when a bullet strikes them. While grotesque, it is also remarkably beautiful.
Whether intentional or not, there are definitely moments in the look of the movie which harken back to James Bond. This is particularly true of the film’s climax which feels a lot like moments from the Scaramanga-Bond fight in “Man with the Golden Gun” but through the lens of Roger Deakins’ work on “Skyfall.”
In short, if you like action movies, you’re going to love “John Wick: Chapter 2.” It is a movie that knows what its audience wants and delivers exactly that in spades. If, on the other hand, action films are not your thing, you’re not going to change your mind simply by watching this one. But, man, are you going to be missing out on something special.
photo credit: Summit Entertainment