Movie Review: John Wick Chapter 2.
Yeah. He’s back. And everything is bigger and better this time around.
Drop what you’re doing and go see John Wick 2. OK, maybe that is a little bit over the top. But if you saw the first one and thought “that was pretty good,” you’re going to love the second one. John Wick Chapter 2 takes every aspect of the first movie and improves on it…except the fights, because they were pretty much flawless to begin with. The story is bigger, the stakes are higher, the cast is more colorful and interesting, and John Wick is even more of a bad ass. Like the first film, there is a good deal of suspension of disbelief required, but the film never makes you regret it.
John Wick Chapter 2 (2017)
Chapter 2 starts off just days after the finalé of the first film. John (Keanu Reeves) is mopping up some loose ends left over from his annihilation of the Russian mob. As he puts that ghost from his past to bed, another one pops up: Santino, a well connected Italian crime boss who helped John retire, calls on John for a favor. The favor is to kill Santino’s sister, one of the seven top bosses in the assassin’s guild. The marker, inked in John’s blood, guarantee’s John has to say yes, unless he wants to be branded a renegade and hunted by every killer on the company payroll.
John heads to Italy to pull of an impossible hit, but discovers that the shifting alliances of the criminal underworld mean that his dream of leaving the life of a hired killer may be the most impossible feat in his career.
Raising the Stakes.
John Wick Chapter 2 accomplishes the dream of every sequel ever filmed: it takes a solid stand-alone story and weaves it into a fully fleshed saga. Director Chad Stahelski doubles down on every bet in front of him. The action is wilder, and filmed just as tightly as the first film. He adds a nice section with vehicular combat that should make fans of The Fast and Furious green with envy. He takes us around the globe, expanding the scope of the franchise while retaining the visual notes and color schemes of the first film. The fight scenes are longer and more numerous, and add to the development of the characters. At each turn we get more and better of everything that made John Wick so much fun.
Stahelski also fixes many of the weaker aspects of the first film. John is still enigmatic and tight-lipped, but we get more of a sense of who he was before leaving the assassin’s guild, and his motivation feels less flimsy. Instead of generic Russian baddies, we get a strong villain with real personality who is surrounded by some interesting heavy hitters. The assassin’s guild is more fully realized and becomes the central focus of the plot. The film makes great use of the 2 hour run time to really inhabit John’s world, and it gives the proceedings weight and substance.
One feature of the expanded scope is that we have so many more characters that feel important. Riccardo Scamarcio’s Santino is the kind of smug and ruthless schemer that you will love to root against. Ruby Rose plays his number one lieutenant, and she is just as enigmatic and lethal as John. Common plays a professional enforcer and former colleague of John’s who is obliged by the rules of their trade to pursue him relentlessly. The forces arrayed against Wick are truly formidable this time around.
Evening the odds is a lose confederation of neutral characters who are willing to help or hinder John, based on the intricate rules of their order. Ian McShane is fantastic as Winston, the assassin boss of NYC, who likes John, but can only aid him up to a point. Likewise, Laurence Fishburne gives a scene stealing turn as a former target of John’s who has to chose between aiding him or turning him in to Santino. John doesn’t have many friends, but he does have a fascinating roster of people to aid him based on the arcane dictates of the assassin’s guild.
What a World!
Where John Wick succeeds most strongly is in actually creating a living, breathing world for these larger than life characters to play in. The assassin’s guild is a glittering and ostentatious organization that operates just beneath the surface of the regular world. A wine bar hides a meticulous arms dealer. A sweat shop doubles as a front for an Old World tailor who provides John with lethal dinner wear. The hotel sanctuary from the first film returns, but is mirrored by other sanctuary sites around the globe. You get a sense that nearly everyone you meet is an assassin in disguise. The script has fun with this notion, having the most unlikely people suddenly reveal their identity at key moments.
Stahelski, a consummate fight choreographer, has a kindred spirit in star Keanu Reeves. Reeves is well known to immerse himself into the physical rigors of his roles. He may not be the most eloquent actor in Hollywood, but he damn sure is one of the hardest working ones. Together they attack the action sequences of John Wick 2 with flair and gusto. Each scene is meticulously crafted, and the long takes and wide angles of the first film are again front and center. There’s no jerking the camera around or quick-cuts to hide sloppy movements. The fights are a brutal ballet and last long enough to strain your nerves to the breaking point with anticipation of the final blow.
The fights are also used to create character. We see the purity of John’s purpose as he fights, the same purity of purpose that caused him to attempt to leave his violent life behind for love. Once he’s made a decision, he’ll grind himself and anyone in his way to pieces to achieve his goal. There’s one great sequence where he’s out of ammo and he has to take his opponents guns as he pursues his objective, much like the stylish shooter game SUPER HOT, where you’re dropped into a situation and are forced to kill your opponents with anything that comes to hand. It’s a fantastic sequence.
The Man with the Golden Gun.
There is obviously some unrealism going on in John Wick’s world. Silencers are so effective here that a crowd never notices that John and Common are taking potshots at each other. The armor sewn into John’s clothes is nothing short of magical, stopping high caliber rounds while only leaving a bruise. The ability to shrug off lethal blows abounds, though of course John benefits the most. Once again, it reminded me of a video game like Golden Eye where silenced guns are the world’s best weapon and any damage can be negated as long as you pick up the bullet proof vests lying around.
That being said, it is at least a consistently unrealistic world. Silencers are just as effective for the baddies as John, and the important players all seem to shop at the same tailor who makes god-like dress suits. John is still a relentless killing machine with a head shot count that would win him the Counter Strike world championship single-handedly, but his opponents feel more on his level and less like pure fodder.
Can’t Wait for Chapter 3.
John Wick’s second outing positions this franchise very well to continue into the future. There is a fully fleshed out world surrounding our well dressed misanthropist, and everything leads to a crescendo that begs for a final installment. That is not to say that this film is incomplete, but that it has created a fiction that begs to be revisited. The first film created a great character. The second film creates a great setting. I can’t wait to see what they create in the next film.