John Wick didn’t reinvent the action genre, but it felt revelatory nonetheless. It was an action movie that took viewers into a lived-in world that world that wasn’t bogged down by needless explanations. On top of it, John Wick featured some of the best action work to grace the screens in a decade, with Keanu Reeves’ deadly assassin delivering all sorts of punishment in visually clear compositions that highlighted the great fight choreography. Action fans rightfully went wild over John Wick and their excitement paved the way for the sequel, John Wick: Chapter 2, which brings back Reeves’ assassin as well as writer Derek Kolstad and director Chad Stahelski. Those fearing that John Wick: Chapter 2 might’ve been underwhelming can put those fears to rest as Chapter 2 enters the pantheon of action sequels. John Wick: Chapter 2 is everything an action movie should be, featuring amazing fights, colorful characters, and it expands upon the world introduced in the first film without even attempting to over-explain even the slightest detail. For action fans, John Wick: Chapter 2 will be like a religious experience as it delivers on every conceivable level making John Wick the best pure action franchise of the 21st Century.
The sequel opens with John Wick (Reeves) seeking to retrieve his stolen car from the first film. In this action-packed opening, all the events of the first film are quickly explained by a Russian crime boss (Peter Stormare) as Wick unleashes his violent fury on anyone that stands in his way. It’s truly an astounding opening sequence that features amazing stunt driving and fight scenes of the highest caliber as well as showing expedience in introducing John Wick for any viewer that was unfortunate enough to miss the first film.
Once Wick has retrieved his car, he returns to his home with his new dog from the end of the first film, though Wick has yet to bestow a name on his new pooch. John Wick now believes that his life of brutality is behind him and can begin again to rebuild his life following the loss of his beloved wife. Those hopes are quickly dashed when Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarico) comes knocking on his door. Santino brings with him a marker, which signifies an unpaid debt in the form of a blood oath, that he wants John Wick to fulfil. Wick refuses and Santino destroys Wick’s home. The rules that govern this underground world of assassins dictate that Wick will be killed if he doesn’t fulfil the blood oath nor can he seek revenge on Santino for the destruction of his home. Reluctantly, Wick agrees to Santino’s demands that he assassinate Santino’s sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini). Wick must travel to Rome to carry out the mission, but success opens up a whole new can of bloody worms that will make John Wick a target for every assassin out there.
Colorful supporting characters from the first film return – Winston (Ian McShane), the manager of the Continental in New York who oversees the rules that govern the assassins; Charon (Lance Reddick), the helpful concierge of the Continental; and Aurelio (John Leguizamo), the car expert. And then there’s a whole new rogues gallery introduced in the sequel – Cassian (Common), the bodyguard for Gianna that seeks violent retribution on John Wick; Ares (Ruby Rose), the mute assassin working for Santino; the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), who oversees his own band of assassins; Julius (Franco Nero), the manager of the Continental in Rome; and the Sommelier (Peter Serafinowicz), who provides the guests of the Continental in Rome with an assortment of weaponry. Each of these characters are unique and lively as they further flesh out this underworld of professional assassins.
Expanding upon the world he created, screenwriter Derek Kolstad adds depth to the lived-in world from the first film but never gives away too much. Each and every one of the characters within John Wick: Chapter 2 have a history but their past is never explained in detail. This may be frustrating to certain viewers that want every minute detail explained, but it works incredibly well within this world. There’s really something to be said about the way Kolstad crafts this world but retains a strong sense of ambiguity, completely understanding that giving far too many details can be entirely underwhelming.
It’s the action of John Wick: Chapter 2 that people are excited for and this sequel doesn’t let down in this department. Former stuntman Chad Stahelski cements his status as one of the premiere action directors working today with astounding action work he presents here. The breathtaking sequences encompass all forms of cinematic action with stellar car chases, gun fights, and hand-to-hand battles that are unrivaled in American cinema. Stahelski’s action direction never even approaches the realm of chaotic shaky cam, always allowing the viewer a visual understanding of the spatial relationships between characters, and this even extends to his moments involving car and motorcycle chases. Even when you think that Stahelski has played every possible card out of the deck, the film climaxes with an amazing sequence within a hall of mirrors, like a ruthlessly violent homage to the finale of The Lady from Shanghai.
Even though John Wick is the ultimate badass killing machine, there’s still a sense of vulnerability to the character that keeps the events interesting beyond a simple action level. This is a character that’s still mourning the loss of his wife, an emotional pain that exists beyond the tough exterior. More importantly, John Wick takes hits that force him battle through his wounds. He’s a superman of sorts but not entirely invincible and it’s an important factor that keeps everything with a tinge of suspense even though you never doubt that Reeves’ Wick is going to kill every last son of bitch he encounters.
Action films don’t get much better than John Wick: Chapter 2. Its only modern rivals are the first John Wick and The Raid (yes, I know everyone loves the sequel but I just didn’t care for it). The sequel raises the stakes, expands the world, and delivers nonstop entertainment that is thrilling and often quite funny – oh yeah, and you don’t have to worry about the dog this time. John Wick: Chapter 2 has an open-ended conclusion that leaves the door wide open for John Wick: Chapter 3 and as the credits rolled all I could think about was setting my calendar for the next installment. Until it comes time for Chapter 3, I guess I’ll just have to watch John Wick: Chapter 2 another 50 times.