If I had a film that I could best compare the original John Wick with, it would probably be The Raid: Redemption. Both films are fast, intense action films that never let up for a second. Both deliver masterful stunt work and brutally violent action sequences. However, if there was a trait of John Wick that particularly stood out to me, besides a surprisingly on-point leading performance from Keanu Reeves, it would be it world-building element. A blend of action-thriller and- no pun intended- neo-noir, the film took place in a world that felt like something out of a graphic novel: a secret organization of hitmen and assassins. Throughout the film, we were shown glimpses of the criminal underworld that Wick was once in league with, but for the most part those glimpses were all we got. It was used mainly as a vehicle to propel Wick’s character through his quest for vengeance.
It is this mysterious world that John Wick: Chapter 2 expands upon, bringing itself closer to The Raid 2 in terms of sequel content. Where once we got to dip our toes in the water, now Wick and the audience have found themselves waist-deep in this world of hit contracts and headshots. And like The Raid 2, John Wick: Chapter 2 manages to be a phenomenal follow-up to the first film, keeping all the good elements that made the first work and cranking the insanity up even further. Does this make it a better film though? I’d argue no, not just because this franchise lacks the element of surprise on its side, but because it lacks the emotional, more personal factors that made the first film surprisingly compelling. That doesn’t stop if from being a kick-ass film of choreographed action, bullets and ultra-violence, all of which tell us that Wick means it this time when he says he’s “back.”
Taking place directly after the events of John Wick, we find John (Keanu Reeves) wrapping up another loose end by getting his car back from the brother of the antagonist in round one. It’s here that we are once more introduced to the man/myth of Baba Yaga: a killer who simply wants to retire from the business, yet now must confront the consequences of re-re-entering his former career, even for a night. These consequences come in the form of crime lord Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), who demands that Wick fulfill a blood oath he once made on a contract of sorts called a “marker.” When John refuses to honor the marker, D’Antonio responds by destroying his house, removing yet another chance at living a life of normality. This to me is something of a minor weak point in the film: where the previous film’s catalyst was the murder of John’s dog, the last gift he received from his deceased wife, John Wick: Chapter 2 chooses to instead force him back into this world against its will. This doesn’t really hurt the film too deeply, but the emotional tether from before isn’t as strong the second time around.
Luckily for us, the writers are well aware that story isn’t really the main focus of these types of films. They know audiences are here for the insane action sequences and, just like before, the action delivers on every front. Granted, it can get a bit insane to see how many hits and bullet shots Wick can take per fight, even with a bulletproof-tailored suit. However, no one is really thinking that hard as they watch these fights ensue, during which Keanu Reeves fully throws himself into the physical aspects of this role. Wick lives up to his title as “the boogeyman,” seamlessly taking down enemies and delivering headshots with ease before he has to reload his clip. Not to mention a couple moves involving the use of a pencil in ways that would make Heath Ledger’s Joker proud. It is a balls-to-the-wall action movie lover’s dream come true: physical, practical and completely non-stop, yet a hundred percent popcorn fun.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
John Wick: Chapter 2 is one of those rare moments in cinema where the sequel actually manages to live up to the hype. It retains all the great elements of the original film and then expands them even further, delivering a ballad of action and bloodshed. Congratulations Keanu Reeves- you finally managed to make up for The Matrix Reloaded.