John Wick: Chapter 2 delivers plenty more of what fans want, while fleshing out the property's mythology and lore in fascinating ways.
Shortly after retired hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) extracted revenge on Iosef and Viggo Tarasov, leaving many dead bodies in his wake, Wick is ready to truly settle down and live the rest of his days in peace with a new dog by his side. Unfortunately for John, his second attempt at stepping away from his past is short-lived when he is visited by an old acquaintance, Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio). Prior to John's first retirement, he made a blood oath with Santino to come to his aid when asked. Wick is bound by the rules of the criminal underworld to come back once more and fulfill his promise.
Reluctantly agreeing to his mission, John heads to Rome to take care of the assignment - leaving his pit bull safe and sound in the Continental Hotel back in New York. Arriving in Italy, John quickly learns that if he's successful in carrying out Santino's wishes, the consequences are far greater than he ever could have imagined. Slowly but surely, John is pulled back into the world he tried to leave behind, and now he finds himself in a fight for his life.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is the sequel to the surprise 2014 sleeper hit John Wick, which impressed many viewers with its "gun-fu" action sequences and sense of world-building reminiscent of comic book universes. Though the first film was a relatively straightforward action film, several saw the potential for a great franchise due to these various elements, and hoped the followup could deliver on that promise. Fortunately, John Wick: Chapter 2 delivers plenty more of what fans want, while fleshing out the property's mythology and lore in fascinating ways.
Chad Stahelski, who co-directed the first installment with David Leitch, is at the helm solo here, and it's safe to say he's as important to John Wick's success as Reeves is. He obviously greatly excels at constructing the various set pieces, very much upping the ante from Chapter 2's predecessor. All of them feature top-notch stunts and camera work, fulling engrossing the audience in the action without relying on quick cuts or shaky cam to simulate intensity. Stahelski also finds an assortment of visually-stunning locations to place his hero, helping the film feel grander and broader in scope while still maintaining the series' now trademark style.
John Wick writer Derek Kolstad also returns to pen the screenplay, and he is ultimately successful in crafting another entertaining adventure. He strikes the tricky balance of fleshing out the John Wick universe without bogging the proceedings down in an overabundance of backstory and minute details. The way Chapter 2 expands the world is quite interesting as more layers are peeled back to explore. Admittedly, some of the choices made may stretch believability for some viewers, but those small faults are never enough to derail the movie. Additionally, the story is a bit slower-paced this time around and takes some time before it gets going, as John's motivations are established. That said, when the action kicks in, Chapter Two is a non-stop thrill ride that's wholly exciting. The sequel doesn't have as strong an emotional hook as the first movie, but the stakes are still high enough to keep viewers invested and never lose interest.
It goes without saying that Reeves remains one of this generation's standout action stars, fully committing himself to the role of John Wick. He's able to convincingly sell just about everything the character does or says, and some of his kills here take things to the next level. Much like the original film, Reeves is able to blend gritty toughness with some moments of levity, sprinkling a periodic chuckle throughout the running time. Ian McShane also shines reprising Winston, manager of the Continental. The veteran actor lends a gravitas that another thespian may not have possessed in the role, giving the franchise an intimidating and stern presence that leaves audiences on the tips of their toes. It's hard to picture these movies without him, a credit to what McShane has done with a seemingly minor character.
Unfortunately, the rest of the supporting cast is largely hit or miss. Common and Ruby Rose appear as two of John's rival hitmen trying to track him down, and while they both handle their action scenes nicely, neither really leaves their mark on their characters. Stahelski tries something different with Rose's Ares, but it ultimately comes off as a more visually interesting way to convey typical henchmen dialogue than anything else. On the flip side, Laurence Fishburne is fun in his small part as the Bowery King. His back-and-forth with Reeves isn't quite the Matrix reunion some were hoping for, but Fishburne makes the most of what he has to work with and gleefully plays the role with theatricality. Scamarcio is suitable as Santino, but there likewise isn't a whole lot for him to do. This is Reeves' show through and through, and he's able to carry the film to great effect.
In the end, John Wick: Chapter 2 is precisely what fans of the first movie wanted when the sequel was announced. Many of the new concepts introduced to the assassin world feel organic, and the breathtaking action will leave viewers wanting more. Though some may wonder what else Stahelski and company can do with the core premise, Chapter 2 presents a number of intriguing possibilities for future installments, and it will be interesting to see where they decide to take it. In the meantime, action junkies are sure to get a kick out of Chapter 2, and it is definitely worth the price of admission in the theater.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 122 minutes and is rated R for strong violence throughout, some language, and brief nudity.
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