John’s back and he is pissed.
One of the initial fears about a hidden gem returning with a follow-up is it would suffer from “sequel-itis”, an insufferable habit of making what worked in the first film bigger and louder without any real development in character or plot.
Thankfully John Wick: Chapter 2 maintains a subtle confidence under Chad Stahelski’s stead. What he and co-director David Leitch gifted to the world in John Wick doesn’t need improvement but merely new, more challenging adversaries for John to face. In Lionsgate’s burgeoning action franchise, Chad Stahelski applies the same level of surreality and violent pastiche from the first film. Taking place immediately after John Wick, our titular anti-hero and his new pup continue to tear things up upon a bigger stage as the audience delves further into the underworld that Wick desired to leave not so long ago. Now semi-retired, John has to contend with an old enemy and a blood oath he mustn’t break. Along with a pair of rival killers hungry to prove their skills are at Wick’s level, our master assassin lets his talent loose in a thoroughly rewarding sequel that’ll leave you wanting more.
In proper fashion, Chapter 2 expands upon the secretive world that Wick longs to escape. Though John ventures across the globe to achieve his goals, Stahelski sticks to what made the 2014 film an instant classic: simple yet entertaining fare done as efficiently and excellently as possible. Much of what made the first film a roaring success is present, however few moments – namely shootouts in swank locales and ridiculously gaudy nightclubs – feel a bit redundant. Nevertheless, Stahelski and Reeves imbue a sufficient amount of depth in the generally monosyllabic killing machine. Truly, actions speak louder than words and by Wick’s more articulate manner of dispatching his enemies, he has plenty to say. For many, John Wick as a merely a stylistic revenge film with an abundance of riches in regards to its cast. The films are overtly instinctual in tone and form; there isn’t a moment in either film that doesn’t elicit some reaction when John almost playfully drills holes in countless goons.
While John Wick was an ultraviolent ballet staged amidst various calibers of bullet casings, Chapter 2 only spreads its wings and embraces improvisation like a modern dance bathed in blood. If some of the first film’s memorable deaths made you wince and yelp in your seat, then prepare yourself for greater, more creative expressions of quiet rage from Wick.
Think of Chapter 2 as a five course meal that only becomes richer and more satisfying as the night progresses. In the opening minutes we’re served an amuse-bouche that hastily resolves the loose ends of the first film, as Wick neutralizes the remaining Russian mafia while Peter Stormare waxes rhapsodic about John’s legendary stature among his accomplished yet less talented peers. From there we’re given our second course with the arrival of Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), who intends to exploit Wick’s talents to attain power within the syndicate’s upper echelon. Not one to have his hands tied, Wick lashes out and D’Antonio’s wrath is manifest in Ares (Ruby Rose) and to a lesser extent, Cassian (Common). From there on, it is truly a feast for the senses.
As John evades the duo – and mows down any nameless gun hand in his way – we’re taken to new domains that showcase the influence and complexities of the criminal underground. This world isn’t as devil-may-care as initially perceived in John Wick; there is a rigid code throughout, not just inside the various Continental hotels where assassins dwell. It’s in the second act that the audience may come to realize that in spite of Wick’s stoic persona, he’s a man possessed, striving to find some kind of peace when all of the world is seeking him out. Mind you, John’s wife (and puppy!) died only a few weeks before Chapter 2; his pain is still very much on the surface… and the only way Wick believe he can finally be left alone is to kill everyone. And boy, does he try.
Hyper-stylized noirish gun-fu isn’t for everyone, but it goes without further writing that John Wick: Chapter 2 is a can’t-miss for any fan of action films. Practically all of your senses are play for nearly the entire running time, thanks to amazing cutting by Evan Schiff and fantastic stunt work and fight coordinating by a bevy of talent. By the end of it all, you’ll wish Chapter 3 (already in development!) was just around the corner. Alas, all good things come to those who wait.
John Wick: Chapter Two is produced by Thunder Road Pictures and 87Eleven Entertainment, and distributed by Summit Entertainment (Lionsgate).