Hot Take: The follow-up to the surprise hit of 2014 has higher highs and lower lows than the original. It remains thoroughly entertaining throughout its enormous 2 hour, 2 minute run time which is a near impossible feat… but so is killing two guys with a pencil and John Wick can pull that off, too.
For some reason, I had some personal qualms with the original John Wick. It was before I watched the film and, for the longest time, I refused to give it a chance. Begrudgingly, I sat through part of it one night when I couldn’t find the remote and it was entertaining enough that I doubled back and watched the whole movie. Since then, I’ve watched the movie a handful of times. Call me a convert to the John Wick movement.
Needless to say, I was excited to see John Wick: Chapter 2 but fully expected to be disappointed in the sequel. That’s typically what sequels do. However, the second installment in the John Wick saga (because you can book there will be a third) is the quintessential guilty pleasure of inventive violence and avant-garde mayhem you’ve been looking for. There’s so much to take in, the low points of the film act as buffers to allow the audience to catch their breath between exhausting action sequences with exorbitant body counts and further evidence if you ever forced to find John Wick’s wallet, you’d look for the one that says, “Bad Mother Fucker.”
While Keanu Reeves has given us a handful of iconic characters in his ever evolving acting career, Wick might be the most intriguing. The Matrix was a groundbreaking concept and Neo was great but the franchise lost some luster in subsequent installments. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was a one trick pony and while Ted “Theodore” Logan was a totally righteous dude, there’s at least a second dimension to John Wick. The rest of Reeves’ characters haven’t gotten a recall so I don’t think you can put Johnny Utah, Jack Traven or Kevin Lomax in the discussion. So, let’s call it: John Wick is the best role of Reeves’ career.
John Wick: Chapter 2 increases the body count which is difficult to do when the original’s unofficial count was 84. Chapter 2 hits triple digits! The film doesn’t waste time, either, as the titular character continues the events of the original on a search for his stolen car. The car is in possession of the brother of Viggo, the original’s villain by proxy (Viggo’s son killed Wick’s dog if you didn’t pay much attention to the details of the first installment). Abram Tarasov (Peter Stormare) sets the tone as he describes the well known tales of Wick’s accomplishments and states they may be understated after talking about Wick killing three men with a pencil. As the story continues, Wick is forced back into work less than 24 hours after coming out of retirement to avenge the death of his dog despite wanting to quickly return to retired life. Santino (Ricardo Scamarcio) holds a marker on John (it was his only way out of his life as a hired killer) and has invoked the right to request John’s services to pay off the marker. Without even knowing the request, John declines and Santino blows up his house. At least he didn’t kill the dog this time.
John looks for a way out but Winston (Ian McShane), manager of the Continental, reminds John of the rules. John reluctantly returns and finds out his next assignment is to kill Santino’s sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini). Once the stage is set, the film takes on a solid pace that isn’t too overwhelming but fast enough that you never get bored. In addition, the supporting cast of Common, Ruby Rose and an especially delicious appearance by Laurence Fishburne all contribute to a pretty good argument that John Wick: Chapter 2 might be a slight improvement on the first installment.
If anything, it’s hard to imagine a John Wick fan being disappointed in the follow up. Chad Stahelski gets sole credit for directing John Wick: Chapter 2 after co-directing the first chapter and delivers a solidly structured, engrossing blood bath with enough substance to not feel like mindless entertainment. The world of John Wick complete with its rules and honor and odd currency doesn’t lose it’s novelty as the second installment expands on the first. Dan Laustsen’s cinematography is as good as his predecessor. The budget for 2 was double of John Wick but most of that went to the talent but there is a nice fresh coat of paint on the body that feels like a noticeable upgrade. All in all, John Wick: Chapter 2 does exactly what it needed to do to be an effective sequel and the expectations will be high for the inevitable third chapter.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Fittingly Reeves
This is my favorite Keanu Reeves character of his career. That’s actually saying a lot considering the previously mentioned characters and how memorable they have been. There’s always been a tinge of humor associated with previous characters, though, as they’ve been vulnerable to parody. There’s something about John Wick that doesn’t lend itself to the same sort of parody. And I seriously wouldn’t recommend poking fun at this character. He’d probably kill you and anyone that watched it.
- Inventive Killing Sprees
If you’ve seen John Wick, you might remember the insane amount of head shot kills. The shear volume of artistic ways the previous film portrayed head shot after head shot was impressive. John Wick: Chapter 2 doesn’t rely on this as its preferred method of killing and instead has plenty of other ways to take out over 140 bad guys.
- The Supporting Cast
No one appears to phone it in which is always a concern in a sequel. There’s enough new faces to compliment the few familiar faces that survived the first film, too.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Does It Take Itself Too Serious?
The follow up feels darker than the original. If the series continues to take that path, it could be the downfall of Chapter 3.