'John Wick: Chapter 2'
It’s hard to imagine that Keanu Reeves knew he was setting up his third successful franchise when he signed up for ‘John Wick’. The modest action flick helmed by a pair of ‘Matrix’ stunt veterans must have seemed like little more than a B-movie with flair, but it proved to be a damn pleasant surprise and an unexpected hit. Now we have ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’, and against all odds, this sequel is an equal.
‘Chapter 2’ is another unapologetically entertaining action movie that’s smarter than it seems and as a dumb as it needs to be. The sequel takes everything great about the first film, ramps it up, and delivers B-movie pleasures so well that you don’t have to feel guilty about loving every second of it.
Things kick off almost immediately after the first movie with some absolutely insane fight sequences in which a car is as prominent a weapon as guns and fists. From there, the movie sets about repeating the motions of the original. John Wick (Reeves – you know it, baby!) retires again, yet is drawn back in. This time his dog survives, but his house get blown up by an old associate (Riccardo Scamarcio) demanding that Wick do “one last job.” That leads to another Wick trip to The Continental, Ian McShane’s bizarre assassin hotel hideaway, and a suit-up/arm-up montage. Then Wick flies to Rome for the big job and the movie starts to twist conventions ever so slightly. The mysterious assassin syndicate is delved into more deeply, but wisely without ever revealing too much. This is still a world of shorthand and the audience is invited to laugh at the way everyone knows the rules that remain at arm’s length. Action piles up, as do the cameos of action stars from past and present. It moves like a big pretty freight train that can’t be stopped,
Even though Chad Stahelski directed this one solo without David Leitch, all the qualities that made ‘John Wick’ so much fun return in this chapter. The sequel has the expensive style and visual elegance of a Michael Mann action movie, the terse characterization and dialogue of a Walter Hill film, and the balletic violence of a vintage Hong Kong action extravaganza. Stahelski delights in using his increased budget and confidence to ramp up the action scenes even more than last time. By the climax, he’s cleverly cross-cutting between multiple fights for maximum impact. The backdrops for the violence are more grandiose and the stunts are more bone-crunching. Remarkably, aside from a single sequence under the streets of Rome, it never feels like overkill. All the action is excessive without being overwhelming, which is a far more difficult trick that it seems.
The comedy is more overt as well. The bloody fights have more of a slapstick edge (without ever crossing the line into outright banana peel silliness) and the cast lean even harder on knowing humor. All the surviving players from last time return, with McShane providing a particularly delicious repeat. They’re joined by the likes of Peter Serafinowicz (adding comedy class), Common (glumly glaring as only he can), and Ruby Rose (hilariously playing her role silently). All of them dive in knowing the tone and pushing it further. Other cast members are practically punchlines when they appear, like a mugging Laurence Fishburne delighting in his ‘Matrix’ reunion or the legendary Franco Nero (the original Django) adding some vintage Eurotrash action class.
Everyone is on the same page, serving up old school action movie posturing with just the right amount of irony. At the center of it all, Reeves once again reigns supreme. It’s an ideal role for the aging action star, demanding as little acting and as much ass-kicking as possible. He does that very well.
The only real question about ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ is whether it tops the original. That’s a tricky one to answer. The sequel is a little funnier and quite a bit bloodier. However, it doesn’t quite have the elegant, contained simplicity that made the first one so satisfying. The movie blatantly sets up a threequel rather than wrapping up, which would be irritating were it not for the fact that there’s gas left in this tank and the concept seems solid. There should be a ‘John Wick’ trilogy if only because the first 2/3 are so damn entertaining. Dumb action doesn’t get any more thrilling or slyly smart than this. If Reeves gets that project and the looooong delayed ‘Bill & Ted’ threequel off the ground, that’ll be three “Whoa” worthy sequels for the master thespian/face-kicker. Let’s make it happen, Hollywood. Reeves earned it.