John Wick: Chapter 2 is one of the only modern action films I can think of to clear a two hour runtime without ever missing a beat. It picks up not long after the original film’s ending, with an expertly shot car chase that Michael Bay should take notes on. John Wick (Keanu Reeves) wants his car. Viggo, the deceased villain from the first film’s brother (Peter Stormare) has it. John is going to take it back.
John gets his car back which shouldn’t surprise anyone, and he barely has any time to rest before Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) drags him kicking and screaming back into the life of an assassin he wants nothing more than to retire from. The key difference here, though is that this time instead of diving back in to right an extremely upsetting wrong, he’s forced back in because he’s the only man good enough to complete any job placed in front of him.
I was a bit worried when I read a few months back that this film would expand on the mysterious underworld of extremely well-mannered assassins. The first film gave the audience just enough of a taste to suspend its disbelief that all of the assassinations and criminal enterprises it alluded to could actually exist in the real world, and revealing any more of that felt like walking a fine line of the film blowing its cover.
Fortunately, my fears were unnecessary as the world-building that John Wick: Chapter 2 displays is as intricate – and downright creepy – as I think it could possibly be. Instead of a small society of aggressively regulated members, John Wick: Chapter 2 takes the organization global and employs a few of its incredible action scenes to show you just how many people are involved in the criminal underground.
Rome is a nice change of scenery for the action that takes place, and even though it flies dangerously close to re-treading the infamous club scene from the first film, it rises above it by utilizing Rome’s catacombs and other ancient architecture to set it apart. In fact, the set pieces in John Wick: Chapter 2 are almost universally unique to this film, and one set in a funhouse mirror-esque art exhibit towards the end might be my favorite in the entire series. The fights are just as expertly choreographed, and thankfully there’s no jump-cuts away from the good stuff. You feel every punch, kick, stabbing and gun shot this film throws in your face and it does nothing to hide the gore that comes along with said violence. And let me tell you – It is violent.
Lawrence Fishburne’s Bowery King was my favorite addition to the world, as he’s introduced with a backstory that gives away just enough to setup a payoff that will hopefully come in the inevitable “John Wick: Chapter 3.” I was sad to see John Leguizamo’s Aurelio only shows up at the beginning, but he cracks some great jokes and his inclusion is setting up a larger part in Chapter 3 as well, so it’s hard to be too upset.
One character that didn’t really work for me was Ruby Rose’s Ares, but not at the fault of Rose. She’s presented as the final boss that John Wick has to face before finishing off his target, but when the fight scene comes it wraps up far too quickly. It was really cool to see a character use ASL as a form of intimidation, and if some of John’s other foe Cassian’s (Common) scenes were cut a bit shorter in favor of more action for Ares, I don’t think the film would have suffered for it.
Arguably, the most challenging aspect of a sequel a director has to deal with is juggling setting the table for the third film in the trilogy while making sure the plot of the sequel remains a self-contained main point of interest for the audience. This is where John Wick: Chapter 2 shines. Even with all the table setting I’ve commented on so far, I haven’t even scratched the surface. It’s all essential to the plot, so most of the time you aren’t aware while it’s happening, but then you leave the theater and start piecing things together and questions start to surface that you know will be answered in the next film.
Keanu Reeves obliterates any doubt that he’s the only person who can play this character. He barely utters anything more than a “Yeah.” or “Sure” throughout the entire film unless he absolutely has to, but you can tell from the look on his face when he slams the back of a dude’s head onto a pencil, to the way he says ‘You don’t want me to owe you anything.” To the Bowery King. It’s presented as a joke, but at that point in the film you have way too much context to find any humor in it.
The biggest flaw in John Wick: Chapter 2 is that its final act is overtaken slightly by the plot advancement of the franchise overall. It’s resolute, but the audience is barely given more than an awkward scene of John sitting contemplatively in the rain. It borders on cringey, but it’s so short that you don’t really have time to dwell on it. It’s more of a misstep than a full-on tumble, though and if Chad Stahelski can keep the momentum going in the third film, it’ll definitely reduce some of the impact of the awkwardness.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is a wild, violent and stylish ride from start to finish. Nearly every minute of the two hours you’ll spend in the theater watching earns your time and I hope the followup raises the bar even higher – if it can.