REVIEW: John Wick: Chapter 2
Directed by Chad Stahelski
By Christopher Spencer
Directed by Chad Stahelski, John Wick: Chapter 2 stars Keanu Reeves, Common, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Lance Reddick, with Franco Nero, and Laurence Fishburne. John Wick has avenged the death of his dead wife’s last gift, a puppy. But like Michael Corleone, every time he thinks he’s out, they pull him back in to a globe-spanning thrill ride, facing off against new and familiar enemies.
When John Wick: Chapter 2 was announced and being made, I was not excited, mainly because I had not seen the first movie. “Why would they make a sequel?”, I thought quietly. But then I did see 2014’s John Wick, and I understood why: because this original film is deeply fascinating in almost every way. The action of John Wick was mindblowing, and Keanu Reeves gained a new foot in his career of being an ultimate badass. Does the sequel live up to the heights that the first one set?
Yes it does. It feels good to say that a sequel today is able to live up to lofty expectations and remain at arguably the same height, with just a little bit more and no less. John Wick: Chapter 2 has exactly what people love about the first movie, while still giving the audience fresh ideas, new expanses to this world of assassin mystery, and remaining organic like every great sequel should.
The character of John Wick is just as tortured as he will ever be, visibly tired now of having to avenge that which keeps getting taken from him by cunning, ruthless enemies he once called friends. And instead of the bad guys just killing Wick’s cat or his new dog or something just as stupid, John Wick is thrown again into family conflicts, vicious assassins just as dedicated as Wick himself, and the fact that he really is all on his own. There are times when Reeves allows that loneliness and pain of the character he embodies to take over, in much stronger ways than the first movie, maybe because we understand how much more it all hurts.
We don’t always receive that much depth from the supporting characters, but Wick is so interesting as a solo man that his interactions with the characters played by Common, Ian McShane and especially Laurence Fishbure are invigorating. Most of these relationships are resolved come movie’s end, others are left open for a future Chapter 3, but each feels as tense and cool as the one before.
John Wick and John Wick: Chapter 2 share the same positives: cool characters all around, 10,000-volts of electric action sequences, complex stories, and the clear direction from Chad Stahelski (and David Leitch too, though he is more producer here). I was quite sceptical that John Wick: Chapter 2 would even be able to keep up with the amount of insanity and raw power the action of the first had, but by having a bigger budget, better set pieces, and more emphasis on the villains being of equal strength, Chapter 2 is absolutely mindblowing.
Look no further than the climactic showdown in a hall of mirrors, a clear homage to The Lady from Shanghai, andeasily one of the most perfect pieces of action I’ve seen this century. The cinematography from Dan Laustsen twists and turns around this set piece, always keeping the geography in tact, making sure each hit is seen and felt like a hammer to glass, and it all looks so beautiful in the end.
While both John Wick movies share positives, they also share the same amount of flaws. The flaws for Chapter 2 are different, but are still evident. The script suffers at times from flat-out repeating dialogue exchanges from the first movie, and even forgetting lessons learned and answers to questions still being asked again and again in the sequel. If the actual dialogue of Chapter 2 was stronger, wittier and had more of the neo-noir edge of other action movie classics, it would stand as a great movie. Screenwriter Derek Kolstad should keep that in mind for Chapter 3.
John Wick: Chapter 2 remains a thoroughly fun, ambitious, explosive, solidly crafted piece of action cinema. It does exactly what a great sequel should do, remains a really good movie, and makes the John Wick FRANCHISE one of the most engaging and optimistic franchises to exist today. GRADE: B+