Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Common
The original John Wick took virtually everyone by surprise when it hit cinemas back in 2014. On the surface, it was a somewhat routine revenge thriller in which Keanu Reeves’ eponymous hitman steps out of retirement to exact merciless vengeance on those that did him wrong. But as we all saw, John Wick was far from routine. With a fresh vibrancy, sharp wit, and inventive world building, John Wick was an adrenaline shot for action movies. Moving away from the tiresome shaky cam and nauseating editing style that had permeated the glut of dire action movies of late (looking at you Taken), John Wick’s fierce action, memorable character work and emotional resonance (they killed his puppy for crying out loud) was enough to make audiences cheer and make the filmmakers bring back the Baba Yaga for another go around.
Chapter Two picks up mere days after the original, and begins with Wick dispatching any number of goons to win back his stolen car in the first in a number of blitzkrieg action set pieces. After returning home, he is visited by high ranking Gomorrah member Santino D’Antonio (an effortlessly slimy Riccardo Scamarcio), who invokes a blood oath made years prior, forcing John to return to the life he’s so desperate to escape from. As Laurence Fishburne says to him at one point, John Wick isn’t very good at retiring. So, with laws to maintain and a code to honour, John goes to Rome to fulfill his oath, but he’s subsequently betrayed and proceeds on a mission of vengeance to right the wrongs that have been visited upon him once again, whilst being pursued by an unhealthy assortment of deadly assassins.
Going solo this time out, director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad invoke the old adage of “if it ain’t broke…” with Chapter 2. The fights are brutal, fierce and in your face, with a particular moment involving a pencil garnering considerable sounds of anguish from the audience of the screening I attended. And John’s showdowns with rival assassin Cassian – an intimidating and excellent Common – prove to be one of the film’s action highlights. Stahelski and Kolstad avoid the usual sequel pitfalls. Instead of going bigger, keeping the action to a somewhat grounded level, with John taking on henchmen in his usual visceral style of dispatch, the film instead expands heavily on the scope of the John Wick universe; with more insight into this mysterious world of assassins and hired killers, Stahelski and Kolstad brilliantly develop the world, whilst never blowing anything out of proportion.Reeves, meanwhile, has never been better. Yes, he may not have the most range of any actor, but my word, the man sure has charisma to burn and then some. Not since The Matrix has Reeves been this magnetic to watch. At 52 years, Reeves has a physicality that few action stars today possess, and with Stahelski’s camera eschewing the usual shaky cam that has become an unfortunate infection in action cinema, we feel every punch, every head shot; every time John takes a beating, we feel it, mainly because we can actually see what is going on. We don’t feel nauseated. We’re not inundated with fast cuts and edits, making the action fight scenes all the more thrilling.
It’s not a perfect film by any means. The story itself has a bit of a stale, “been there, done that” feeling, and it lacks the emotional resonance and drive that was a huge part of the first film (thankfully, no harm comes to any cute little dogs this time out). And Ruby Rose, playing a mute bodyguard, is savagely underused in her role, given little to do until the third act.
If you were a fan of the first movie though, you’re sure to get a kick out of this sequel. If not, well… I doubt this will convert you. But this is action cinema at its finest. And with the ending hinting at where the potential third film could go, this is one action franchise I hope sticks around for a while.