Days after taking out the head of New York’s Russian mafia, and his son, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is looking to return to his quiet suburban life. Unfortunately, his former associate, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), shows up to collect on a blood oath Wick took to leave the league of assassins. Delivering on this oath means Wick is a free man. But, the cost is potentially too great for the one man army.
John Wick Returns
John Wick burst onto the scene in 2014. It was a small action film conceived by the stunt team behind The Matrix in order to work with their friend, Keanu Reeves. The movie quickly became a rallying cry against the shaky cam and quick cuts plaguing action cinema at the time. The stellar action sequences, combined with a far-reaching mythology made John Wick an instant classic. Heck, Key and Peele made a film essentially celebrating how great it is. The film didn’t exactly clean-up at the box office, but strong word of mouth made it a massive home video hit. As a result, the movie developed a rabid fan base that began clamoring for a sequel immediately. Fortunately, the stars (and production budget) aligned and fans of Keanu’s best film in fifteen years got a sequel. But is it any good?
Thankfully, the answer is yes. John Wick Chapter 2 is, for all intents and purposes, a perfect action sequel. Great sequels rely on two things: going deeper and wider. A sense of escalation must exist in order to justify the sequel’s existence. The escalation comes on the action front in spades. It’s clear that John Wick Chapter 2 had a larger budget than the previous installment. As such, the action sequences are gorgeous ballets of death. The head shots come fast and loud. Every dollar of the budget is on display and director Chad Stahelski’s visual flair makes it pop off the screen.
However, the escalation doesn’t stop at the action sequences. The original John Wick featured a cartoony mythos about a secret league of assassins operating under our very nose. John Wick Chapter 2 dives deep into this mythology and makes no apologies for doing so. The entirety of the plot revolves around Wick infiltrating the society in Rome to take out one of its head members. Coupled with that, viewers get a sense of the centuries-old rituals and traditions associated with this secret society. It kind of answers the question: “What if James Bond took place within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church?”
John Wick Chapter 2 is a risky endeavor. Because of this, not all of the risks pay off. The expansive lore throws the pacing off quite a bit in the second act. Watching Wick participate in all the stuffy pleasantries and dusty traditions makes one restless in between the action. And, while these deviations from the action make sense in the film’s endgame, they are still very cumbersome.
The John Wick franchise prides itself on coherent, but inventive, action sequences. Unfortunately, the action sequence in the catacombs kind of forgets the coherent portion. The scene is very hard to see and even though we’ve seen John look at maps of the area, the geography of the area is confusing. Also, it is shot in such a way that it seems like baddies are waiting just off camera for him to reload before they begin attacking him again.
When the dust settles, John Wick Chapter 2 is great. The film takes big risks, and even though they don’t pay off, they are admirable. It wears its influences on its sleeve and runs the gamut of Samurai, Western, Super Hero, and then some without feeling like it’s ripping off any one movie or genre. Keanu Reeves owns the part and makes the audience care about the violent situations at hand. When Wick finds himself in a violent shoot-out the emotional stakes are high. The audience wants to see him make it out the other side unscathed because he never asked to be in this situation. If you were a fan of the first John Wick at all, this couldn’t be an easier recommendation.