Keanu Reeves returns to his hugely popular character in John Wick: Chapter 2, a sequel that won’t let the devout fans down and may even create a few converts.
John Wick came out of nowhere to be one of the best action movies of the decade, it combined unflinching gunplay, intense hand-to-hand and outstanding world building to take a tried and true formula and refine it as best it could. The result was a resounding cheer across the board and now three years later, John Wick: Chapter 2 has been released which manages to not only justify its existence, but enhances the franchise as a whole.
Set a few days after the first film, John (Keanu Reeves) ties up the last loose ends of the Tarasov family in time to return to retirement with his new dog. However the peace is cut short by the arrival of Santino D’Antonio (Ricardo Scamarcio), an Italian crime lord who helped John with his first retirement that allowed him to settle down with Helen (Bridgette Moynahan), now Santino wants John to fulfil a blood oath and kill Santino’s sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini) so that he could take her place on the High Table, a council of crime lords.
John refuses but as Santino and Continental manager Winston (Ian McShane) remind him, if he doesn’t honour the blood oath then his life is forfeit, with no other option; John takes the contract and heads to Rome. But as he soon finds out, Santino is not about to let John go that easily.
Things are a little more complicated this time but upping the story wasn’t a surprise considering the simplicity of last time and it’s still easy to follow. Rome takes up the first half of the story but it’s the second where things kick into gear and brings out the best the film has to offer while also setting up the threads to lead into Chapter 3.
Once again the film is filled with a varied group of enigmatic characters, returning are Winston and Charon (Lance Reddick) of the Continental. Charon as a few more lines but essentially is the same cheerful but sinister Concierge while Winston takes the role of a mediator trying to keep order but realising that might not be an option.
Santino and his right-hand woman Ares (Ruby Rose) are fine foil to John, neither of them are as good as Viggo who made for a more human villain. Santino conversely is much simpler, cruel, selfish and powerful. That’s not to say that Scamarcio is bad, he has the right body language to pull off the character but he’s a bit of a let-down following Viggo. Ares fares a little better, her mute bodyguard is more interesting and her use of sign language often has some humorous tones, there’s not a lot to her but Rose plays the bad-ass well.
Also new is Cassian (Common), bodyguard to Gianna who takes a personal vendetta against John and surprisingly proves to be one of the film’s better elements, holding his own in the fight scenes with Keanu. And The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) an underground crime-lord using a network of homeless people, he was a good character, clearly relishing that the great John Wick was coming to him for help.
John himself is still as strong a lead as any, what made John work in the first film was that he had a detached quality to him, a stoicism brought on by the death of his wife leading to a subdued performance with rare but fitting moments of anger. That’s much the same here with Reeves playing the master assassin living up to his legendary status, though the anger this time is a lot more palpable, especially when John’s exasperation starts eating away at him more and more, leading to a much more violent John than the first film offered. Reeves makes the role his own but it’s great to see more to the character.
Directing duties return to Chad Stahelski who nails it on all fronts, creating what is sure to be one of the most intense rides of the year. Right from the opening scene where John steals his car back through a barrage of violence using both himself and his car as weapons you can tell immediately what tone the film is going for and just roll with it.
It does take a little while afterwards for the film to reach its next set-piece but the world building is still just as effective at showing just how expansive the universe of John Wick is. Of course once the action hits again it does not stop, all leading from one set-piece to the next. John’s escape from Rome is an all-out firefight within the Italian catacomb, dark, claustrophobic, loud, but with more than enough long-takes that in a culture of ultra-fast editing, being able to actually see what’s going on makes for a much stronger showing with blood splatter being clearly shown from all angles.
The catacombs is followed by a montage of John facing off against multiple other assassins and leads right into a fight on the subway between John and Cassian with both men clearly bringing their personal hatred into the tightly packed and fury-fuelled encounter. The final act contains the best set-piece with John chasing Santino to his museum and ending up in a mirrored maze, aside from the logistical nightmare it must’ve been to shoot such a scene, the disorienting effect and uncertain placement of character made for a unique sequence that showcased just how effective John is at gaining the upper hand.
John Wick as a film didn’t need a sequel but for the world that was set up it would’ve been a shame never to see it again; now with Chapter 2 we get a sequel that more than lives up to the name and fans are going to be delighted that everything has increased and improved. The villain might be weaker but the newcomers and old faces help paint this world a little clearer and the threads left open for Chapter 3 ensure that whatever John faces next he’s in good hands.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is out now in cinemas.