Starring: Keanu Reeves, Common and Laurence Fishburne
Directed By: Chad Stahleski
Running Time: 122 minutes
Our Score: 4 out of 5 Stars
Did the first “John Wick” need a sequel? No. Does “John Wick: Chapter 2” need a sequel? Yes. I didn’t know I needed “Chapter 2” in my life, but I’m glad I got it and now I want more. “Chapter 2” is more of the same from the first installment and that’s not a bad thing. It’s a great thing.
Picking right up where the previous movie ended, John Wick (Reeves), also known as “The Boogeyman,” is finishing off the lingering threats and hitmen who did him wrong from the first installment. But instead of easing back into a low-key and somber retirement, with a new dog in tow, he’s greeted by an old acquaintance, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio). D’Antonio recruits Wick to help him take over a seat of power in the criminal underworld. Wick isn’t so sure, but Santino uses an old blood oath and three missiles to Wick’s home to sway him.
All the potential consequences and paths of this blood oath, as pointed out to Wick multiple times throughout, are Wick’s death. Luckily for Wick, and the audience, he’s the one who spends entire runtime dishing out death. Before the story even contemplates getting too muddled in specifics and new characters, “Chapter 2” takes a deep breath and once again stops itself from becoming too literal. Just like the original, character introductions are more about the person’s individual quirks, skills and ticks, than their actual name or purpose. And “Chapter 2” keeps the video games tropes around as everything is still paid through magical golden tokens and Wick’s gun is stuck on auto-aim.
This helps keep everything flowing as this sequel is about 30 minutes longer, but rarely dull. While “John Wick” was more about the man behind the blood hungry myth, the sequel appears to be more about Wick diving deeper into the world around him, including the Continental, the criminal safe haven, hangout and safe zone from the first film. The Continental is still shrouded in mystery, but the little depth that is revealed implies it’s a lot more than just a U.N. for gangbangers. It may be the actual cogs of society and government.
What made the original so good is that it never bogged itself down in realism despite the backdrop being New York City. Instead it collects visual actualities to prop up this notion that this alternative reality is percolating beneath the surface. “Chapter 2” expands this alternate reality by dropping visual indications on how all these backstabbing swindlers and emotionless assassins have managed to govern themselves. Murder is their business and they’re serious about it. The rules in this violent fantasy world are simple, habitual, rehashed for clarity, and never biased towards any of the heroes and villain.
“Chapter 2” also further establishes previous canon while building on fresh canon without having any of the new nuances become superficial. The violence is a lot more over-the-top, but played straight-faced for laughs. The killings are more gruesome, but never repugnant. Like much of the visually stunning set-pieces, like a room of rotating mirrors bathed in laser light, the violence is aesthetically pleasing. That’s because it’s visually relayed that Wick doesn’t love or sink his teeth into this line of work anymore, but does it as a necessity for survival.
The same crew from the first is back for more, providing an enjoyable and realistic continuation of a seemingly one-off story about a retired assassin out for revenge. He’s no longer out for revenge, but struggling with the underworld that wants him to be addicted to the rush and thrill of being a hired gun. Wick’s world is noir, retro, and techno all in one cohesive ball. The John Wick franchise is not only a great addition to the action-film catalogue, but a much needed renaissance for the CGI-heavy genre.