John Wick is back.
There’s a lot of weight in that sentence. As a character and as a series, Wick is one of the few purely original creations of action cinema. He is not based on a franchise or other medium, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Die Hard. Nor does he rely on an ensemble cast, like The Fast and the Furious and The Expendables. Rather he is a one-of-a-kind character we can root for, made for movies and by the movies.
And, more importantly, John Wick: Chapter 2 is a damn good film.
The sequel kicks off redressing a point that the last title did not: the theft of his car. After a reminder of his skill-borne near immortality, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) returns to his almost empty home. Alongside his now fully grown dog, John resumes mourning his late wife. But his solitude lasts for about two minutes. The prior movie proved that John abandoned his retirement— an act that entitles mob boss Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) to claim a favor owed to him by “the Boogeyman.”
Rebuffed, Santino immediately exacts revenge. And John ventures to the Continental to lodge protest with Winston (Ian McShane). But the Continental has two rules that must be obeyed by those who traffic in the underworld of assassinations: no violence on Continental grounds, and Markers (of which Santino is in possession of John’s) must be honored.
With no option besides death and dishonor, John is forced out of retirement.
Chapter 2 walks a careful line. It delivers everything that made the first movie so great, while slowly unraveling a bigger ball of old yarn. The film eschews most background-building devices like the “new guy/student” or narrative exposition. Instead, the details unfold naturally, through action or conversation without becoming burdensome or a distraction.
And there’s more than the traditions of the assassin underworld. John has an untold biography himself to tap, such as his re-encounter with the Bowery King, portrayed by Laurence Fishburne. The history between the two is a triple-whammy of expansion, personal history and plot thickening.
Even where there’s no time to build character depth, there’s style and smarts in abundance. Ruby Rose as D’Antonio’s mute, hand-signing right-hand woman, who mixes both respect and attitude. Common is Cassian, a bodyguard who seeks vengeance against John while retaining a professional demeanor. Every minor role has some way of searing itself in the viewer’s mind. No one is forgettable.
And, of course, there’s the incredible action and fight scenes.
From planning and preparation, improvisation to execution, the movie covers all the angles. Clever use of the environment, foresight, a sense of tactical practice and precision, martial arts… the movie just feels credible. Right down to the mundanities of one-two body-and-head shots before reload after reload. It convinces us, even as John walks in and out of lethal situations no one among the audience could pretend to survive.
And as John Wick progresses, we watch this legend of a man unravel. Little by little, our belief in his immortality fades with every scratch and wound. And these accumulative injuries only embolden his foes, who grow in number and smell blood in the water.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is an excellent action film and superior sequel that is not to be missed.