In recent years, there have been only a handful of sequels have lived up to their predecessors. Think of all the disappointments. Avengers: Age of Ultron, Anchorman 2, Iron Man 2. The list goes on and on. Thankfully, John Wick Chapter 2 not only lives up to the first film in the series but exceeds it in practically every aspect.
The story follows the titular John Wick (Keanu Reeves), an almost mythical, unstoppable, assassin who, at the start of the previous movie, had left his violent ways behind to live a quiet, suburban life with his wife but was called back into action after his wife’s passing when enforcers stole his car and murdered his precious dog. John is called into action again, very much against his wishes, this time by Italian Crime Lord Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), due to a blood oath he made a long time ago that enabled him to escape from his life in the shadows.
The opening of the movie makes a clear statement to the audience, outlining exactly what this film is all about. That it’s going to be bigger, bolder and better than what came before. This little prologue, which involved Wick trying to recover his prized 1969 Boss 429 Mustang from Peter Stormare, (any movie that has Peter Stormare in it is automatically improved by his very presence) is extremely entertaining and amusing, it’s somewhat detached nature from the main story rather pleasantly reminded me of the way Bond movies open with a mission that is usually irrelevant in the overall arc of the story. It’s brilliantly silly at times, completely over the top, fast paced, heart pumping and, most importantly, extremely enjoyable. The tone for what is to come has been perfectly set.
John Wick Chapter 2 does everything the first film did so well except that now everything is turned up to eleven. Although, those really awesome, sweeping bird’s eye view shots from the first movie are somewhat missed. And yet, they kept the stupidly stylised subtitles. Strange.
If anybody ever wants a lesson in how to choreograph, shoot and edit action, then one need look no further than what you see on screen in this movie. Every cut is used at precisely the right time during the action scenes, to compliment the action that is happening on screen, not to hide and disguise the choreography that so many modern action movies, even great one’s like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy are guilty of.
Some of the sequences in John Wick Chapter 2 will be etched in the memories of viewers for a long time. The catacombs fight, the opening chop shop fight, Cassian and Wick taking pot shots at each other, the fight on the subway and, by far, the best Hall of Mirrors sequence captured on film since The Man With The Golden Gun. There are also a whole heap of memorable quotes this time around which shall not be spoiled here but will surely be fired back and forth between fans of the film for years to come.
It is also a beautiful film, as the first movie was. If you are a sucker for some neon then the John Wick series has to be right up your alley. The great thing about the second film in the series is that we get to go to many new and stunning locations, most notably Rome.
Every single character is so well fleshed out. They all feel like they have a real history outside of the 2 hours we see them on screen. They all have very clear identifiable traits that distinctly separate every single character from each other. Whether it’s Ruby Rose’s Ares, a deaf assassin who can only communicate via sign language, Lawrence Fishburne’s Bowery King who is as entertaining and quotable as he is mysterious, Peter Serafinowicz’s scene-stealing turn as John Wick’s very own Q-esque character or the returning cast of characters from the first John Wick movie that are for the most part expanded on and given more to do in this movie, or at least given an amusing cameo.
By far the best addition to the cast is Common as Cassian. Wow! This guy more than anybody else in either of the two movies, feels like a real equal to John Wick, somebody who can actually go toe to toe with him. Every scene he was involved in was brilliant in every sense of the word and I really have to applaud Common for being able to have the stature, stunt training and acting ability to be able to make us believe that Cassian is a real match for our almost unstoppable hero.
Reeves’ John Wick persona does feel a little more forced and less natural than the previous movie, particularly his voice. However, there can be no criticism in the level of commitment and dedication Reeves shows with his fitness, his desire to perform his own stunts (which can clearly be seen during a car related action scene where the driver’s door has been ripped off) and his almost unmatchable combat skills amongst leading Holywood actors.
The only slight issue with the movie is that it does spend quite a bit of time retreading previous ground in the first act. After the initial over the top fun sequence of Wick retrieving his car, John Wick Chapter 2 goes over many of the same beats as John Wick. John Wick returns to his home, mopes about his dead wife, watches some videos of her on his phone, plays with his dog, he meets Aurello to talk about his car, is confronted at his house by some villainous tough guys, is forced on a mission of revenge following this attack, has a quick conversation with his old police friend and then heads to the Continental Hotel in New York.
All those things literally happen in both movies and mostly in the same order as described in both. Repetition is not usually something you want in a sequel. Thankfully the retreading of previous ground does not last too long and once we get past this section of the story, the movie really kicks into gear and becomes its own beast.
If you take this movie too seriously then you are clearly going about it the wrong way. This is a movie to sit back, relax and just enjoy. It’s silly, it’s not meant to be taken seriously. Now, this is an argument that gets thrown around a lot about a lot of bad movies but the difference between John Wick Chapter 2 and the “switch your mind off” popcorn movies, is that you cannot switch your mind off during this film. As a viewer, you are constantly engaged, consistently challenged by what you see before you. Everything on screen is not just loud and explosive things lazily put there to just distract you from your most likely lacklustre lives, every single frame of this picture and every single aspect of it is carefully crafted to near perfection; the cinematography, the choreography, the stunt work, the sound work, the editing are firing on all cylinders. What is the difference between this and most modern action movies? Well, the people who made this clearly care about what they are doing and doesn’t hurt that they also happen to be really good at what they do.
After some initial retreading of ground early on in the story, John Wick Chapter 2 quickly steps out of the shadow of its predecessor and stretches its legs. It does what every good sequel should do. It builds on the initial film, brilliantly expands the world it is set in and most important of all it takes everything that made the first film great and elevates every aspect to a new level. The bar has been set very high for John Wick Chapter 3.