If you know me, you know that I think John Wick (2014) is possibly the greatest action movie since Die Hard (1988). Wick takes a black and white plot, about a guy who loses his wife, his dog, and his car in a matter of 48 hours only to go on a bloody killing spree against a criminal underworld, and surrounds it with colorful scenery and practical effects that feels like a love letter to 90s action genre niches and choreography that would rival any musical if said musical had a body count. Keanu Reeves is the action hero that had his moment in the sun for a brief period of time – but never truly got his due. John Wick rectified that and gave Reeves the best role in his entire filmography. Wick could have easily been written off as a robust and loud two-hour-long action scene, but Reeves quite literally holds the movie on his shoulders and does it with swagger and subtlety that is seldom seen in action movies today. A sequel, like for most, seemed unnecessary for Mr. Wick, but director Chad Stahelski uses this opportunity to not necessarily develop John Wick the character, but instead immerses you in John Wick’s world and the repercussions of what it means for John Wick to truly “be back”.
John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) hits the ground hard in its cold open that wraps up a few loose ends from the first chapter that you didn’t even realize existed. John’s still back and he’s still pretty pissed that he lost the three most important things in his life in his attempt to retire from a life that requires a gun for every problem. Soon after, we, along with Wick, find out that there are consequences to “getting out” and then getting back in. For Wick, this is when Italian mobster Santino D’Antonio (played by Riccardo Scamarcio) comes to him (Wick) with a blood marker, requesting that Wick kill D’Antonio’s sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini) so that he can replace his sister’s seat on a high council of the criminal underworld. After Wick refuses/warns D’Antonio and D’Antonio retorts, it looks like John Wick isn’t going to go back into retirement just yet.
Chapter 2 soars for the same reasons sequels like Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004) and X2 (2003) succeed: it doesn’t feel like a rehash of the same story with different names. Instead, it feels like a continuation of an overarching story where the stakes are indeed higher due to previous events. There are really only two ways to properly do a sequel: the first being what I said above; and the second being a story that takes place many years later – let’s say a decade – and characters have changed and have a different view of life and all it has to offer (i.e. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)). Because John Wick is such a one-dimensional character, in the best way possible, it makes total sense to put Wick’s disposition on the back burner and instead focus on the world-building.
Through Chapter 2, we’re given what feels like a seven-course five-star dinner featuring characters and layers to a criminal underworld that spans worldwide. Wick’s blood marker takes him to Rome, where we are given a look at how their kind of criminal operates. While some may be skeptical enough to say that these are just the elements from the first film set in a different country, I disagree. There are certainly some scenes that will feel familiar, like Wick’s reunion with the dangerous Winston (Ian McShane) and Charon (Lance Reddick); but intercutting them with scenes of Wick “bonding” with the Sommelier (Peter Serafinowicz) and another assassin named Cassian (of course Common found his way into this movie), who is in a cat and mouse chase with Wick for a good portion of the movie, you get that this is a system of criminals larger than any you thought existed in the first film. There’s honor among thieves here, absolutely, but not without a price as we learn quickly in Chapter 2.
One of the surprises in Chapter 2 for me was the editing style and pace that Stahelski decides to go with this time. It isn’t necessarily anything innovative. You have the long takes and a fast camera movement that any action movie should have. However, it manages to be a complete change of form from the first, and with near-obnoxious neon lighting and Keanu Reeves’ incredibly believable performance and ability to make cheesy dialogue sound valid, you are welcomed back into the world of John Wick with open arms.
If you’re a fan of the first, you should feel obligated to see the second. If you didn’t like the first, you’ll ask why you should think this would be better. I can’t believe I can say in the year 2017 that Keanu Reeves is at the top of his game. John Wick: Chapter 2 is as fun as is it blatant, yet it calls back to some of the finest action movies had to offer. The action can be gruesome at times, but it isn’t for the sake of violence. No one screams bloody murder after Wick shoots them – they just die and it’s onto the next one. If I’m speaking objectively, there are definitely some callbacks to the first movie that they could have done without. But for what it’s worth, if I can watch Keanu Reeves literally kill a man with a pencil, I’m all in.