The original John Wick is something of a rare gem in Hollywood: a completely original IP that delivers a stylish kick-ass action movie, in a unique world defined by its top-notch world building and mythology. Plus, headshots. Lots and lots of headshots. It was an instant cult classic.
And now we have a sequel.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is also something of a rare gem in Hollywood: a sequel that surpasses and improves on the original on all counts. Director Chad Stahelski fully understands the aspects everyone loved about the original John Wick (the mesmerizing “gun-fu”, the charismatic Keanu Reeves, its sense of humor, the headshots) and turns the dial-up to twelve in what is most definitely 2017’s best film yet.
Chapter 2 picks up right where John Wick left off. While John (Keanu Reeves) may have avenged his dog, he still needs his stolen car back. To kick things off, Wick launches an assault on a Russian base that is holding his vehicle, in what marks one of the best set-pieces of the film. Wick trades in his gun-fu skills with car-fu, swerving around and laying waste to countless goons until there are but none left to waste. Although, this leaves Wick’s car in pretty rough shape.
After calling in Aurelio (John Leguizamo) to assist him with his car troubles, having a catch with his newfound puppy, and seemingly retiring from the assassin life for good, John is visited by another assassin from his past: Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio). Santino is making a play for a spot at the “High Table,” the council that dictates the rules that the guild of assassins must follow. He needs John’s help to complete a contract to make this a reality. As it happens, John is indebted to Santino via blood oath and must comply under threat of death. Reluctantly, John accepts and travels to Rome for what is hopefully his final assassination contract. As expected, shit goes sideways, and Wick must go on the run.
This marks the contrasted dynamic that Chapter 2 operates in. Where Wick was primarily the pursuer in the original film, in this film he is constantly on the defensive. Where in the first film he was a cool and seething badass, here in Chapter 2 he’s more unruly, more desperate, and somehow even more badass.
This format gives Chapter 2 the opportunity for a copious amount of fun and inventive action set pieces, all of which are just as satisfying (if not more so) than those in the first film. Outside of a rave-shootout that feels a tad too derivative of the club sequence from the first film, every action scene feels fresh, never growing stale. In a film that in a near constant state of action, that’s mighty impressive.
The insane and exhilarating gun-fu that John and the myriad of assassins employ is such a joy to watch, especially when John must constantly improvise. In one scene we’ll see John fully loaded with a complete arsenal, mowing down baddies with shotguns and assault rifles alike, yet in others he’ll be in a state of ammo scarcity, constantly having to trade out and steal his victim’s guns so continue the carnage.
And good lord, can we talk about the sound mixing for a moment? Because it is top-fucking-notch here. Every gun shot, every assault rifle blast, every shotgun shell fired sounds like a goddamn mini atomic bomb going off, giving the action scenes that extra visceral punch that makes them all the more impactful and satisfying.
At times he must rely on but his fists. The fist fights here as just as spectacular as the shootouts, one of which involving rival assassin Cassian (Common) is, no joke, one of the best man-on-man brawls I’ve seen in a film. Not to mention one of the funniest.
Which brings us to yet another aspect that Chapter 2 absolutely nails. This movie is fucking hilarious. In keeping with the borderline absurdity of the first film, John Wick: Chapter 2 rides right on the line of insanity, ever so slightly dipping its toe into campy waters. The film takes itself seriously, but never too seriously. It’s a careful balancing act that this film employs but is quite successful at, allowing for a line as ridiculous as “Are you here to kill the Pope?” to be both hysterical and act as a solid character moment.
Much of this humor relies on Keanu Reeves‘ performance. Reeves is the glue that holds these film’s together. His charismatically cold performance transcends the apparent contradiction and makes for a compelling and engaging character. Reeves somehow sells the most ludicrous lines with absolute sincerity and makes Wick all the more lovable for it.
Chapter 2 continues to deepen the lore of the amazing world of assassins, giving us more insight into the rules and regulations of the Continental and expanding the scope even further. The Continental is a much larger organization than previously thought, with what seems to be an innumerable amount of assassins roaming the world, various shops and businesses acting as simple fronts for assassin goods, and hell, even an entire network of hobos that are secret assassins. There’s no telling how deep this goes, and I look forward to seeing this explored in future iterations. Hell, at the rate this franchise is going, I wouldn’t be surprised if the goddamned president was in league with these guys.
John Wick is proving to be a mainstay action series. If every sequel can be as gratifying and hype-inducing as Chapter 2, I’ll watch these things until the end of time. Although, at the rate John Wick headshots fools, there might not be much of an assassin population left before long.
At least he’ll still have his dog, who is a good boy.