REVIEW: 'John Wick: Chapter 2' broadens the scope to deliver new Boogeyman thrills
Looking back on the original John Wick from 2014, it’s not hard to understand why the movie works so well. At its heart, the film is a barebones concept: a story about a man looking for revenge for his dead dog. But what’s important is the way the concept is executed: a seamless blend of top-notch action directing, choreography, style, and more than a little self-aware humour. There’s so many ways that a movie like John Wick could have fallen apart and become a bargain-bin or direct-to-streaming flop, and one of the most satisfying things about it is how it transcends its components and entertains.
So along comes a sequel, and like many follow-ups to sleeper hits, there’s some big shoes to fill. John Wick: Chapter 2 doesn’t have the benefit of catching people by surprise, so it has to do something different keep us engaged.
To do this, the sequel needed to avoid the structure of the first film. It would be hard to sell another revenge story (let alone put audiences through another dog-killing scene). So Chapter 2 makes the smart move to expand on the subtle world-building details that everyone loved in the first film, broadening our understanding of the twisted world of assassins that Wick inhabits. All of a sudden, we begin to understand that Wick belongs to a global organization of killers, linked by a hotel corporation (think the Hilton of guns-for-hire) that offers safe lodging and other services for its deadly guests. One of the highlights of this approach is a meeting between Wick (Keanu Reeves) and the hotel’s “sommelier”, played by Peter Serafinowicz, where they discuss the finer points of something a little more lethal than oenophilia.
This zoom-out on the scale of the Wick series gives us an expansive stage for the action scenes that follow. In true Wick style, the action hits a sweet spot (rare in other action movies) between brutal violence, realistic combat scenarios, and confident camera work. Wick mows through goons like the Grim Reaper, all while having to contend with battlefield challenges that are too often glossed over in other films, like running out of ammo or having to pause and reload once you recover some.
At the same time, director Chad Stahelski (returning without his co-director David Leitch from the first film) continues to use his background as a stuntman to bolster the way the film is shot. Hand-to-hand fights make use of frequent wide shots, helping us understand where we are in the sequence. Even when the camera gets in close, Stahelski resists the urge to rapidly cut and cheat his way through a fight; in one second-act scene, Wick and an enforcer played by Common grapple on a balcony, and the camera roves over them as if they were stone figures in a nearby Roman fountain.
One of the aspects of the Wick films that Chapter 2 has to contend with is Reeves’ performance. Reeves seems to inspire a strong love/hate reaction with moviegoers. Most fans of the Wick films are drawn first to his screen presence and stuntwork, and end up liking Reeves more as a result. But there’s also viewers who can’t get over his wooden line delivery. Personally, I’m not put off by Reeves’ delivery, and it even suits a character like Wick - evidence of how screwed up the guy is. Nevertheless, if you’ve never been a fan of Reeves before now, Chapter 2 is unlikely to change your mind.
Thankfully, there’s a well-considered list of supporting players to back Reeves up. The film brings back Ian McShane as the manager of the assassin hotel in New York, as well as Lance Reddick as the mannered concierge, Charon. Adding some new flavour to the sequel are Ruby Rose as a badass deaf assassin, Riccardo Scamarcio as the main villain, and Laurence Fishburne as a character who will hopefully get developed even further in an (as yet unconfirmed) third movie.
Moving away from the revenge-movie structure does take away the emotional gut-punch that drove much of the first movie, but with the way Chapter 2 barrels forward, you don’t have much time to worry about that. Perhaps more important is how the film encourages you to laugh at some of the exchanges (like a gunfight during a commuter rush with silenced rounds) that lesser films would take too seriously. With the way the film ends, there’s no reason not to be excited to see where Mr. Wick the Boogeyman haunts next.
John Wick: Chapter 2 gets three and a half stars out of four.
What did you think of the John Wick sequel? Was it a worthy follow-up, or has some of the magic of the first film faded away? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers!