Synopsis: After returning to the criminal underworld to repay a debt, John Wick discovers that a large bounty has been put on his life. (Source)
The original John Wick was a pleasant surprise, with directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch birthing a new action hero for the ages. That film had a perfect emotional hook, gleeful abandon, and Jean-Pierre Melville’s sense of cool mixed with the grit and depth of an Ed Brubaker comic. Against all odds, Stahelski is back with a sequel that’s fully loaded, bursting out of the frame with all the ferocity of a feral bulldog. Though it’s predecessor felt like a full story, John Wick: Chapter 2 never once feels like a cheap addition, but a rich expansion, picking up right where the last film left off and going global in ways that feel earned. Star Keanu Reeves, again, holds all the breathtaking stunts and action together as the film’s anchor, a weary lost soul who can’t find peace. Take notes everyone, this is how you do a proper sequel – John Wick: Chapter 2 isn’t just a great action movie, it’s a great film destined to become a classic.
Things start out with a bit of unfinished business. Wick (Keanu Reeves) is hitting the Russian mafia for the last thing they initially took from him: his car. After pummeling dozens of goons and getting his car back (while also near totaling it along the way), he finally appears to have retired. He’s barely had time to bury his old life beneath a fresh layer of concrete, however, when Italian crime lord Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) shows up on his doorstep, calling upon Wick to claim a blood oath the former hitman once promised. The hit would give D’Antonio a seat at the High Table, a commanding position at the head of a secret society of assassins. Wick, is of course, hesitant, wanting little more than to leave this life behind for good, but has no choice but to fulfill his debt. The details are rather expansive, and as Wick reemerges for this last job, he unwittingly finds himself the target of a worldwide network of assassins.
If the first film was about establishing a world and finding closure, Chapter 2 is about diving deeper into Wick’s old way of life, dragging him tooth and nail into a deep, dark underworld with venomous clutches. From the first frame, the story barely stops to catch its breath, with Wick navigating secret societies and shoddy alliances with brutal aplomb. The biggest thing we learn is that Wick and his colleagues adhere to a strict set of principles and cardinal rules, which must never be broken at any cost. It’s truly fascinating to see this world expanded upon, how these killers operate within strict parameters, and even how this world subsists within an oblivious public. The emotional hook this time, is how Wick is weary, and just can’t seem to find peace, but that there’s also a part of him that truly enjoys and misses the mayhem. This contradiction of sorts is what the film hinges on, and it’s a juicy premise that gets full play from every angle.
Of course, you can’t talk about a Wick film without bringing up the film’s style and unhinged action. To name a few, set pieces range from a car chase, shootout in Rome catacombs, a free-for-all across NYC, and a climactic showdown amidst an art exhibit. Needless to say, the film is restless, with Stahelski calling upon his stunt training to craft fight sequences that blend the line between brutal carnage and cartoony absurdism. Once again, Stahelski and crew have gone to great lengths to showcase that Reeves and his cohorts are doing most of their own stunts, with long takes which allow the action to breathe and speak for itself. This is the absolute pinnacle of modern fight choreography, featuring technical precision that is without a doubt the film’s unspoken character. Pushing things further, each violent encounter always serves character, handicapping Wick in different ways to show us who he is.
The performances are all strong, with each person bringing exactly what’s needed. As Wick himself, Reeves has found a role that is perfect for him. Though he isn’t known for being the most expressive, he has a stoicism that is necessary to the role, and he grounds its insanity by finding a relatability. Adding to his fight choreography, Reeves makes the character someone we understand even without a lot of dialogue – his character is in every action, be it his beleaguered stares, or nuanced body language, giving the role a physicality that makes it shine. Riccardo Scamarcio is memorable as D’Antonio, the film’s sleek antagonist, but it’s Common’s Cassian and Ruby Rose’s Ares who are standouts. Like great Bond villains, the two bring a swagger and set of quirks which add to the film’s playfulness, contributing charm and some of its best character exchanges. Ian McShane’s Winston is much welcomed, and with a pivotal role, same with Lance Reddick’s Charon and Laurence Fishburne’s Bowery King, who all bring a sense of solidarity to the proceedings.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is one dense film. I could go on forever about it, picking apart its deep mythology and the minute details that bring it to life, but really, just do yourself a favor and go see it. It really does go above and beyond, a gritty neo-noir that has something for everyone and ticks all the boxes – it’s playful, ultraviolet and sits comfortably on its own wavelength, never looking back and never letting up. The film also ups the ante for any action film that comes after it, even as it’s setting the stage for another chapter, and it would be cruel if studio heads didn’t give us another. In a nutshell, this one’s pitch perfect, and I can’t wait to dive back in.