“John Wick” was one of the first movies I ever reviewed for the Niner Times as a freshman and I remember the night I saw it to this day. It was at Northlake’s IMAX (still a favorite of mine, especially now that I live near there), a Thursday for its 7 p.m. premiere showing that I was skeptical about. Sure, Keanu Reeves needed a comeback, but was it really this movie? Yes, it was. Surprisingly, “John Wick” was a movie far superior than that of the low-budget action movies we originally wanted to tie it to. It was a gloriously nostalgic, yet entirely new take on the typical “action hero” movie that pulled everything off exquisitely. The world built around the film is interesting and lush, the action is swift and beautiful, and Reeves had never been better. So the question stands: can lightning strike twice?
Totally, even if the effect isn’t quite as spectacular the second time around, it’s still just as thrilling.
John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is attempting to re-adjust to normal life after the events of the first film. After retrieving his beloved car, John is approached by Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), a powerful former ally of John’s, who reminds John of a former blood oath made between the two men prompting a favor from John. When John is offered the chance to kill Santino’s sister for Santino’s gain, he reluctantly must re-enter the underworld of assassins.
This is a very simple movie, much like the first one, but what’s exceptional about it is the detail put into the smaller aspects of the plot. This underworld I speak of is as fascinating as the story itself; this is a lush, beautiful, expansive world of assassins that I could do with far more of. In fact, the world in which “John Wick: Chapter 2” paints is worthy of its own cinematic universe if we had unlimited time and money, but given that this is a fairly singular series, let’s place our focus onto Wick himself.
Reeves isn’t known for being the most expressive of actors, but there’s something about the character of Wick that suits him so perfectly. This is a broken man who only seeks out the resources to live a normal life, but keeps getting dragged back into the equation of his former life. You can tell that Wick doesn’t enjoy what he does, but does it to cover every loose end in the promise of a serene life. The world of Wick doesn’t revolve around a sadistic need to kill, but a duty to himself, his dog and his late wife to achieve the life he promised. No matter how much violence and badassery pervade “John Wick” and “John Wick: Chapter 2,” these movies have a good deal of heart.
Supporting characters also get a good deal to work with. Lance Reddick, John Leguizamo, and Ian McShane reprise their roles from the first film, but it’s the new faces who have the most fun. While Scamarcio does a nice job as the repulsive Santino, it’s his cronies who shine through the most, especially that of Ruby Rose’s Ares. A deaf assassin, Ares deals badassery in a way that only John Wick can handle. Unlike her roles in “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage,” and “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter,” Rose is actually given good material to work with here, without even uttering a word. Meanwhile, Common’s take on the assassin isn’t quite as strong as Rose’s, but does quite good work in the physical aspect of the role, which excuses much of it in a film such as this.
But let’s be real here, you’re not going to see “John Wick: Chapter 2” because of its heart, you’re seeing it to see Reeves shoot people in the head for two hours straight. Needless to say, “John Wick: Chapter 2” does this gloriously. Directed by first film director Chad Stahelski, none of the badass elements of the original film were lost in the transfer to the sequel. Every pixel of every frame of this movie oozes badass, even in its quieter moments. The fight choreography in the film is some of the finest action you’ll see in a film all year, with a polished, yet rugged approach to it. “John Wick: Chapter 2” combines über-stylized sequences with a dash of rigidity that only this series has been able to pull off in recent memory and it does so in such a fun way.
The first 40 minutes of “John Wick: Chapter 2” isn’t quite as strong as its second half, making some of the sequences leading up to the second act twist feel a bit too similar to that of the first film, but when it hits, “John Wick: Chapter 2” turns into a completely different movie. The fine line with sequels is that you can’t do too many things similarly or you’ll be stuck with a movie nearly identical to the predecessor, but you also can’t make such a drastic departure that you lose the elements of what made the original so beloved. “John Wick: Chapter 2” finds this balance between the two, as it opens up the world that enticed us so heavily in the original, but taking us places we never expected to go, because honey what you see, isn’t always the truth.
“John Wick: Chapter 2” does something great, it finds a way to honor the action films that paved the way for it to come along, plays with everything good about action presently, and finds a way to thrust the genre into its glorious future. This is by no means a perfect film, nor did I find it as jarringly effective as the original film, but for how sequels go, it’s hard to ask for anything more than this. “John Wick: Chapter 2” is a sleek, stylish, brutal, heartfelt and most of all, entertaining film that couldn’t be done without the killer pairing of director Chad Stahelski and leading man Keanu Reeves. I look forward to the return of Mr. Wick with open arms.
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, Lance Reddick, with John Leguizamo, and Ian McShane.
Runtime: 122 minutes
Rating: R for strong violence, some language and brief nudity.
Summit Entertainment presents, a Thunder Road Pictures production, in association with 87Eleven Productions, a film by Chad Stahelski, “John Wick: Chapter 2”