Yeah, I’m thinking he’s back (again).
John Wick was a fantastic surprise. It was a gritty, old-school action flick rooted in a simple, yet effective premise. It’s been two years since Keanu Reeves’ badass ex-hitman came out of retirement, and once again he’s out for blood in John Wick: Chapter 2, a solid successor that builds on the strengths of the original, buts lacks some of the novelty and charm.
After tying up some loose ends from the first film, John Wick is dragged once more into the assassin underworld he left behind, in order to fulfill a blood oath. However, his hit is compromised, Wick becomes a wanted man, and seeks revenge.
Let’s get this out of the way first: the action is incredible. Once again, director Chad Stahelski has crafted some the best action sequences in recent memory through an emphasis on kinetic energy and lucid choreography. Every time Wick pulls a trigger, throws a punch, swings a knife, or slams his car into another, you can clearly see and understand whats happening, and this is amplified by the fluidity and liveliness of every frame of action. The sound design contributes to this sharp action as well, as you can feel each time a bullet erupts from a gun, or whenever John gets hit by a car (which happens surprisingly often).
The best action sequences in the film also happen to be the most violent and outrageous, specifically a very memorable scene involving a pencil, and a subtle gun fight between Wick and another hitman played by Common.
Speaking of Common, the cast of Chapter 2 is on point. Once again, the ageless Reeves is fully dedicated to the lead role, and the supporting cast like the returning Ian McShane are having a blast. If you’re super excited to see a Matrix-esque Laurence Fishburne reunion with Reeves, please temper your expectations. Fishburne isn’t in the film very long at all, but his role is super memorable, and delivers the funniest lines in the movie.
Plot-wise, John Wick: Chapter 2 is just about as simple as the first. No, his new puppy isn’t killed, but what motivation is given for Wick to “unretire” for a second time makes sense and works just fine. One really fascinating aspect of the first film was the setting of the film. Not really the locations, but the concept of an entire underworld and network of assassins. This concept is vastly expanded upon in the sequel, and there’s really cool world-building going on, making for pretty novel movie lore.
While the plot works just fine, it never had the same effect as the first film. What made John Wick so special was it’s character-driven focus and emotional core. Sure, a dying wife and murdered puppy is enough to make you root for any protagonist, but the film’s pacing and Reeves’ performance make you feel for John, and understand why he is driven. This character work isn’t found in Chapter 2. Unfortunately, John just isn’t as a compelling character as he was in the first film. This sequel just doesn’t seem as interested in telling an engaging or heartfelt story. The focus is almost solely on the action, and that’s a bummer.
In fact, the resolution of Chapter 2 almost feels compromised. Story almost takes a backseat not to action, but world building. I know praised the cool universe John Wick lives in, but the last act of Chapter 2 feels more like setup for Chapter 3 than an actual conclusion to a story. It’s really not that bad, but again, more care should have been placed in creating about John rather than one for John.
If you had the slightest amount of fun with the first film, you’re going to love John Wick: Chapter 2. Sporting remarkable action and a cool world, this is a sound follow-up, even if it’s missing the beating heart from the first.