John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review
When John Wick hit theaters a few years back, it was one of the rarest of movies, a slick, old school action movie that was not only one of the best action movies of the past decade, but for a nice change of pace, managed to become a true sleeper hit. It’s sequel, the aptly named John Wick: Chapter 2 is something even better – the rare sequel greenlit because of the success of the first film that only expands on what made the first movie great, but likely surpasses it entirely.
John Wick: Chapter 2 opens in the immediate aftermath of the last movie, with Wick having reclaimed his car from what remains of the Russian mafiya, and at long last hoping to return to the retirement he so eagerly craved. However, having returned to the criminal underworld in spectacular fashion, leaving again doesn’t prove easy, when Italian crime lord Santonio D’Antonio calls in a blood debt Wick owes him. Once more forced back into action, and with the body count rising, John Wick has a long, bloody road to go before he can retire for good once more.
The original John Wick had a lightning-in-a-bottle premise, with a legendary assassin going on a roaring rampage of revenge after the Russian gangsters who killed his puppy, and rather than fall into the common sequel pitfall of retreading new ground, John Wick: Chapter 2 rather smartly chooses instead to deal with the consequences of the first film, while also allowing greater exploration of the colorful underworld we only got glimpses of in the first movie. Everything the first movie did so well – from its smart, genre-savvy story to its pacing and set up – is just as strong here, if not stronger because of sequel escalation.
A lot of the charm of John Wick: Chapter 2 comes from the movie finally exploring the series mythos and world, and it’s a delight to see more of it. This is a world where a man dubbed the Sommelier pairs weapons with the terms and flourish of a wine tasting, colorful assassins hide in plain sight around every corner, where a veneer of class and color masks a world of violence, and you will love every second. The other key strength is yet another strong script, heavy with both plenty of heart and plenty of humor. John Wick: Chapter 2 is the rare movie that can have a genuinely funny moment followed by drama followed by extreme levels of violence, and sticks the landing on all three.
Once more, Keanu Reeves manages to impress as John Wick, delivering yet another turn as the assassin who is equal parts ultra professional one-man-army and still mourning widower. Violent and vulnerable in equal measure, Reeves’ turn as Wick this go around is much more of a caged beast than a rampaging one, and Reeves manages to display this transition brilliantly. It’s also yet another very impressive, physically demanding performance from Reeves – say what you will about the man’s acting ability, but there is no denying the man is terrifyingly lethal once the blows and bullets start flying.
While the supporting cast isn’t nearly as strong as the cast of the last movie, John Wick: Chapter 2 is still strong in this department. Ian McShane and Lance Reddick return as Winston and Charon respectively, and both are a delight. Common gives a great performance as Cassian, a bodyguard who is the rare man who can go toe-to-toe with John Wick and live to tell the tale. Hot off the heels of an impressive turn in xXx: Return of Xander Cage, Ruby Rose surprises yet again as a deaf-mute mob enforcer tailing John. Laurence Fishburne gets to reunite with his Matrix costar as the deliciously campy Bowery King, and we even get an enjoyable, if brief performance from Peter Stormare as the last Russian mafioso standing between Wick and his beloved 69 Mustang.
If there is any weakness among the cast though, it’s Riccardo Scamarcio’s Santonio D’Antonio, who in addition to being a pretty generic scumbag mob boss, never quite explains why the hell he thinks double-crossing John Wick is a good idea.
Once again though, the highlight is the work of directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, who have managed to make John Wick: Chapter 2 as much of an action landmark as John Wick was two years ago. If the smooth tracking shots and beautifully choreographed action scenes was a breath of fresh air against a pool of modern action movies where shaky cam and choppy editing can all but ruin many films, it’s wonderful to see that Stahelski and Leitch delivered yet again. That they remain incredibly grounded by genre standards, from actual combat tactics being used in the action scenes to magazines running dry during shootouts, while still managing to raise the stakes is as admirable as it is impressive. Action movie junkies with a keen eye may also take note of the large number of callouts and references to other classic action films throughout the film, perhaps most notably the biggest showdown in a hall of mirrors since Enter the Dragon. All in all, in style and direction alone, John Wick: Chapter 2 will be hard to unthrone this year for best action movie, and there is a reason these two are getting tapped for Deadpool 2 and the Highlander remake.
Really, the only real complaint I have with John Wick: Chapter 2 is the ending, and a big part of that is just that it leaves it open for a John Wick: Chapter 3 which I dearly hope we get as soon as possible. Once again, we have a movie that manages to thumb its nose at the biggest tropes in action cinema while paying homage to the classics, is equal parts hilarious, heartfelt and violent, is beautifully shot, wonderfully acted and thrillingly action-packed. If John Wick was an action masterpiece, it’s no small feat that John Wick: Chapter 2 could very well be better.
If John Wick was the rare sleeper hit nobody saw coming, here’s hoping John Wick: Chapter 2 is the rare breakout sequel that marks the start of a franchise we never saw coming, because I genuinely want to see more of what the world of these movies has to offer.