If great action scenes flow like a dance, then the John Wick movies move to an EDM beat. Each set piece in this burgeoning franchise moves to precise rhythms, punctuated by constant, rapid exclamation marks: a juddering knee to the chest, the sharp stab of a knife into a leg, the pop and splat of the series' signature point-blank headshots. John Wick Chapter 2, if anything, ups the BPM from the previous film, creating an almost overwhelming symphony of intense, cringe-inducing violence. That it never does become too much is a testament to how inventive and expertly choreographed this sequel is. John Wick Chapter 2 is a thrilling movie that delivers on the promise of the original, and it's a rare action film that even when you reach its end, exhausted and out of breath, the last thing you want is for it to actually stop.
Some familiarity with the first John Wick film is ideal before seeing this latest chapter, but even without that background knowledge, the film does an admirable job of setting up the main character and the world he inhabits with its opening scenes. John Wick--played again with a stoic chill by Keanu Reeves--is re-introduced to audiences through an exciting car chase and subsequent combat with some Russian goons, with the ever creepy Peter Stormare recapping some of Wick's legendary exploits during an extended voiceover. It's an extremely effective beginning. By the time Wick shoots a bulky Russian in the kneecaps to end the first fight, we know everything we need to: Wick is a legendary hitman trying desperately to quit the life, and he's operating in a strange underworld populated by noble assassins and criminals following strict codes of honor.
It's this code that propels Wick into this latest adventure, forced back into the game to honor a debt he owes to criminal boss Santino D'Antonio (played by Riccardo Scamarcio). Unlike the first film, John Wick Chapter 2 manages to transport Wick outside of New York and into a brand new location (Rome, specifically), with the change of scenery affording us a better view of the compelling world-within-a-world the series is set in. It's one where safe houses for hitmen masquerade as luxury hotels, where stylish dinner jackets double as bulletproof vests, where a bevy of tattooed secretaries working an ancient telephone switchboard are the key conduits through which all assassination contracts worldwide are filtered. This expanded universe, which we only glimpsed in the first film, is one of the best things about John Wick Chapter 2, as it lends the series an almost mythic, otherworldly quality.
Set within this heightened reality, John Wick Chapter 2's over-the-top gun-fu is a natural fit, with Wick stylishly (and exerting only the minimum effort at all times) disposing of countless nameless baddies with unfailingly accurate shots direct to the head. In lesser hands, Wick's signature style could have easily become repetitive, but returning director Chad Stahelski proves adept at managing the action, escalating and building on each set piece to deliver new thrills. There's an amazing inventiveness on display here, with no two action sequences feeling the same, and each feeling more intense than the last. A 20-minute stretch as Wick returns to New York is a standout. Split across multiple fights and edited non-sequentially, it's a virtuoso piece of action filmmaking that's as engrossing as it is exciting.
Director Stahelski's masterful use of the camera makes all of the action in John Wick Chapter 2 feel impactful. Fight scenes are primarily shot with its protagonists' bodies fully in frame, with long takes letting you see the flow and impact of every hit and every bullet. There's no rapid cutting or shakiness to be found here--this film is confident in showing you exactly how these fights are playing out, making it abundantly easy to follow the action.
But despite its operatic levels of violence, John Wick Chapter 2 never takes itself too seriously. The film has a dark, impish sense of humor, and it knows full well just how ridiculous it is. John Wick Chapter 2 laughs along with you--any film that has a near-silent shoot-out between two master assassins in a busy train station that goes completely unnoticed by commuters is one that certainly embraces its absurdity. But that's really this film (and series') key strength: it's fully committed to its fantasy. The world of John Wick is exotic and dangerous, but effortlessly cool above all.
By the time John Wick Chapter 2 reaches its conclusion, you'll be exhausted, with the previous two hours of outstanding action leading to an unexpected but altogether natural climax. But despite this fatigue, the film's somewhat cliffhanger ending will energise you. John Wick's story is not over, and just like Wick himself, you'll want to take a deep breath, take stock, and steel yourself for what comes next. It'll be a long wait until Chapter 3 (hopefully) comes along.
|The Good||The Bad|
Outstanding action that's shot well and edited clearly
|The wait before John Wick Chapter 3|
Expands on the world only hinted at in the first film