Review - 'John Wick: Chapter 2'
When the first John Wick came out in 2014, I don't think anyone was expecting too much. Surprisingly, the film turned out to be an action junkie's dream-come-true and made back four times its budget, which obviously warranted a sequel. While I don't think John Wick: Chapter 2 is as good as its predecessor, it certainly holds its own and continues to uphold its titular character as the unlikely anti-hero that we love to root for.
The plot is as follows: In a thrilling opening action sequence, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) ties up the last loose end left from the first film by retrieving his car. Upon arriving back at his home, he is almost immediately visited by Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), a rival assassin with a debt to collect. Wick reluctantly accepts after D'Antonio destroys his house. The task is to take out D'Antonio's sister so that he can assume her role on the "High Table". John Wick heads to Rome to complete the task, but not everything goes according to plan.
Just like its predecessor, there isn't too much to the plot: John Wick is wronged again, he seeks to kill the one that wronged him, tons of dummies with guns get in the way and are killed...but with style! John Wick: Chapter 2 is simply a revolving door of spectacularly choreographed, beautifully-lit action vignettes. Sure, there are little morsels of storytelling here and there, just enough to let you know that you're rooting for John Wick and not all of the thugs with his bullets in their heads. This sounds like a criticism but it's not, I appreciated that the film knew exactly what it was and what its audience actually came to see.
Though the film is admittedly short on storytelling, you can still assume a great deal from the rich world that the filmmaker's have built. There's a surprising amount of world-building on display here. After the first film showed a taste of how this assassin underworld operates, Chapter 2 expands upon that more and you get an even better sense of how it functions. This is one of the many admirable traits that separates this film from your typical Takens of the world.
Chapter 2 takes a bit of a downturn when it comes to Wick's driving motivation. We're supposed to feel like he's just as angry this time as he was in the first, but I just didn't buy it. Sure, he's still believably motivated, but the film didn't quite have the emotional punch of the first one. The original John Wick had such a drive to it and seeing Wick take down countless men to avenge the death of his dog which was given to him as a final parting gift from his dying wife was so satisfying. Here, you at least understand why he's doing what he's doing and you still root for him, but it's just not quite the same.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is also hampered by a slightly overlong run-time and some questionable editing decisions. This film clocks in at around two hours, and no matter how good your action is, it's hard to maintain a high level of interest and momentum through every single one of those minutes. Drag is most noticeable after the first action sequence as the film takes its time setting up a good reason for John Wick to head to Rome. There are a few more instances where the film pumps the breaks. That said, I would never call the film boring.
The editing, for the most part, is good. There were a few moments that didn't make sense to me, though. In an attempt to condense the run-time, the film has a tendency to switch between different scenes that are happening at different times, showing them progress parallel to one another rather than in sequential order, which can be jarring when you just want to see them play out normally. This happens a few times throughout the film and can be distracting. Apart from that, the film looks and feels great, it's just a shame that it wasn't more smoothed out at times.
Despite my issues, the action is always there to pick up the slack, and here it is absolutely jaw-dropping. Director Chad Stahelski really knows his way around an action scene, and there are very many here. Stahelski treats the action sequences in John Wick: Chapter 2 like musicals treat their musical numbers. The story halts, the stage is set and the dance number (or fight in this case) plays out in dramatic, over-the-top fashion. Once it's over, the story continues and no one ever looks back to question what just happened. It's just beautiful. If you're not a fan of action, watching this might not convert you, but it will help you understand why others like it.
When it comes to the acting, I would say that this is about on par with the first film. Keanu Reeves, while not the most emotive, is wholly convincing as John Wick. He has a wry wit that adds levity when things get too grim, and he is also believably ruthless when he's in action. His performances can be wooden at times, but I would argue that his demeanor perfectly suits his character here, also the pure physicality of his performance is undeniable. Laurence Fishburne cements the Matrix reunion as the Bowery King, and while he's not in the movie too much, it's nice to see him and he's obviously enjoying himself. Most of the characters that survived the first film are also back including Ian McShane, Lance Reddick and John Leguizamo. They still play bit-parts, but they are welcome company nonetheless.
Of Wick's many adversaries; Riccardo Scamarcio plays Santino D'Antonio, the main villain in the film. While I don't think I hated D'Antonio as much as the cowardly son from the first one, Scamarcio is easy to dislike and contributes to a much more satisfying finale in this film. Common and Ruby Rose play more worthy opponents than the numerous henchman Wick dispatches, and they're both good, but it's less their performances and more their scraps with John Wick that I was more invested in.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is a fitting sequel to the surprisingly great first film. Chapter 2 ups the ante in just about every department, and even though the title character's motivations lack the same emotional heft here, it's still a hell of a ride that's worth taking if you're a fan of action...lots and lots of action.