Sequel escalation never felt so good as it does in John Wick: Chapter 2. It elevates everything that made the 2014 original so great: the worldbuilding, the fight choreography, the lighting and imagery, the genre throwbacks, and Keanu Reeves’ character tailor-made for the actor’s skills.
After taking his revenge for the death of his dog in the first film, John Wick thinks he can return to his quiet retirement (with a a new hound in tow). However, the sins of his past won’t let him go so easily, when an old associate Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) calls in a blood debt, it forces Wick to fight once again for his freedom and grapple with his inner demons.
Watching John Wick: Chapter 2 is a little like watching ballet for dudes. The movie drips in neon lighting and religious imagery, from the Greek pantheon to Buddha, with a dose of doves as well. It highlights the reverence for the story they’re telling, as well as reinforces the heightened reality we, the audience, are entering, a place where archetypes and ideas dwell, reigning over oblivious humans. The international and underground order of the Continental has a lot in common with the wizarding world of Harry Potter.
Chapter 2‘s motto is doubling down. From the body count to the locations to the glorious flourishes, this sequel has all the original had, dialed up. It’s more confrontational and in-your-face than the quieter, understated, and altogether simpler original, but for those who dug the mythology of a shadowy (and very polite) assassins’ guild and Wick’s inherent invincibility, it can only be a good thing.
Reeves is a bishonen, seemingly walked off the manga page. He fits gracefully in these roles, like Neo in The Matrix trilogy, where he uses his fists and guns, and does it in style. The training and discipline the actor shows in performing his own stunts, even in his 50s, is admirable. Reeves’ acting can easily be dismissed as monotone. Indeed, it took me a while to appreciate his ability. The subtlety in his quieter moments make his explosions of emotion that much more interesting to watch. That talent is perfect for a film that relies less on dialogue and more on faces, particularly the eyes.
The film continues to stack its supporting cast with able character actors, some who seemingly pop by just for the hell of it, like John Leguizamo. Common and Ruby Rose join as a couple nemeses Wick faces. Both are quite good, with my doubts about the former particularly put to rest by his performance, while Rose continues to impress in her third action role this year (after Resident Evil: The Final Chapter and xXx: Return of Xander Cage). The filmmakers wisely gave Ian McShane more dialogue to chew here while Laurence Fishburne gets an ENORMOUSLY hammy role as the Bowery King, a homeless cult leader (one thing this movie makes clear: everyone in New York, up to and including the street beggars, are assassins).
Stunt coordinator-turned-director Chad Stahelski returns from the first film, sans co-director David Leitch, who instead directed the August spy thriller The Coldest City starring Charlize Theron and James McAvoy before getting hired to direct the superhero sequel Deadpool 2. While Leitch appears to have moved on to greener pastures, Stahelski is sticking with Wick, and this entry has a hook for an inevitable third chapter.
If there is a moral to the John Wick franchise, it is: never harm an animal. If there is a second, it is: respect your stunt coordinators, because, with the right story, they can deliver some of the best action movies of the last decade. And if there’s a third, it’s that I will never tire of Keanu Reeves’ one-man army headshotting his way through Earth’s population.