2014’s John Wick came like a sudden and violent punch to the gut, surprising audiences and critics with its unflinching masterful gun-fu fight choreography, efficient bread and butter plot, and well-crafted world of assassins and hitmen.
But if the 100-minute long John Wick was quick and lean ballet of stylized violence then the sequel John Wick: Chapter 2 is a grand opera bringing in more characters, bigger and bolder set pieces, and expanding the Wick universe both geographically and in the lore and code of the underworld.
Chapter 2 begins right where chapter one left off or at least a day or two afterwards.
It’s highly recommended that you watch the first one before diving into Chapter 2; there’s so many story beats and pieces of lore that pay dividends in the sequel.
In the case of the opening scene we find out what happened to John Wick’s car after he took out 90% of the Russian mob.
What follows is perhaps one of the most creative car combat scenes since Mad Max Fury Road, where Wick (played by Keanu Reeves, with car stunt work done by Jeremy Fry), uses his classic Ford Mustang as an extension of his body, spinning tight and dizzying donuts and knocking out goons with the car doors.
This is only the opening salvo in a series of increasingly stakes-raising and visually arresting fight sequences including a beautifully edited montage of three different fights intercutting between each other, and a climatic battle that will leave viewers wondering “How the hell did they pull that off?”.
The 52 year-old Reeves threw himself fully into the project, attending a military-style bootcamp for three months to get himself familiar with firearms and hand-to-hand combat, and that effort really shows.
When in other movies the editor would put in a flurry of cuts to hide the stunt performer, Reeves’ intensive training allows the camera to linger on him longer and makes the incredible fight choreography pop even more.
Director Chad Stahelski (a stuntman who doubled Reeves in the Matrix movies) has some incredible long tracking shots in this movie, most notably a gunfight in a sewer that sees Wick reload through several magazines, and switching weapons on the fly all while a camera follows him over his shoulder as if he were a character in a third person shooter video game.
It’s hard to go back to watching, say, Jack Reacher or Jason Bourne after seeing the first two John Wick films; it reallymakes almost every contemporary western action film look amateur in comparison.
Like in the first movie the plot and characters are secondary, serving more to get to the next action set piece.
Wick’s retirement only lasts 12 hours, before a fellow assassin, Santion D’Antonio returns to fulfill the other half of a blood pact that allowed Wick to retire from the underworld before the events of the first movie.
Wick is forced to carry out an assassination on D’Antonio’s sister, the head of the crime family, and a member on the council that governs the criminal underworld of the film’s universe.
The rules and machinations of this organization are left vague enough as to not distract from the action set pieces and break the pacing, but just tangible enough to make the world feel lived-in.
The supporting cast is also game; Common shows that he could probably carry an action movie all on his own as a bodyguard who seeks revenge after John Wick kills his mentor.
Laurence Fishburne reunites with Reeves as the Bowery King, munching up the scenery.
It’s a little jarring since every character before him in played with a sort of understated self-seriousness, but he does end up delivering the best line of the movie.
Finally Ian McShane gets an expanded role as Winston, the manager of the Continental the neutral zone hotel for assassins where “business” is strictly forbidden.
In a film that’s so kinetic, he probably puts in the best performance out of all the cast, all while sitting in a chair for 90% of the movie.
The end sets up perfectly for a Chapter 3, and with a strong performance at the box office, it looks like action fans are in luck.