Heads Up: Minor spoilers withn!
Get ready for more gratuitous violence and head shots because JOHN WICK: CHAPTER TWO dishes out just as much death and mayhem as the first film. The movie picks up in familiar territory, John Wick killing people while looking for his car. Following an all out brawl in a chop shop, John sets his past aside and returns home to hopefully resume his retirement. Unfortunately, a ghost from his past arrives, Santino, who has come to call in a marker John gave out to facilitate his initial retirement from contract killing. John refuses, which goes against all the rules, and Santino responds by blowing up his house up. John reaches out to his old friend Winston, who informs him there is no way out and his options are to do what Santino requires, or face death. Reluctantly, John agrees to Santino’s command, which is to kill Santino’s sister, a prominent member of the council that oversees hitmen. John is, of course, successful, but he does get discovered in the process and Santino puts a huge price on his head in order to tie up loose ends. Now John must go toe to toe with friends, enemies, and every other assassin in the world in an effort to exact revenge for being dragged back into a life he wanted to forget.
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER TWO is one of those rare sequels that lives up to the original, and I believe this is largely due to Derek Kolstad returning as writer and Chad Stahelski returning as director. The story is engrossing and pretty well written, and it expands on the first one which is exactly what a sequel should do; we get a deeper insight into the global structure of the assassin’s organization and get to see how extensive it is and we get a somewhat better idea of the major players in the New York. The movie continues to cement John’s status as the scariest assassin ever, and it is mentioned often and continuously throughout the film, but this works as a running comedic device which prevents the movie from feeling too dark despite the mass amounts of death and violence in it. I was also impressed with the wide variety of characters that show up this time around because while only a few of them are even remotely developed, they all have a level of uniqueness to them that allows you to remember them and keep them separate in your mind, despite the vast amount of them who show up throughout the movie. The only real critique I have is that I wish there was a little more explanation of the structure and politics of the ruling council, as they were often mentioned without ever being fleshed out.
If you were a fan of the direction in the first film, than you are in for an absolute treat this time around. The settings are far more varied than the first installment, and they add a creative element that helps elevate the film above the mindless action genre. I particularly liked the Italian catacombs, which provided an interesting setting for a prolonged firefight, giving us lots of alcoves for various surprise encounters and some fun lighting conditions. Equally cool was the mirror exhibit at a museum which really messed with your sense of space and proved a great location for an epic showdown. One of the things I love most about the John Wick franchise is that it avoids quick cuts, so the action is always very easy to follow, and this is of paramount importance in a film that is far more action than exposition. The overall camera work isn’t too flashy, but it more than does its job of covering the action and, combined with the careful lighting and setting selections, keeps the movie feeling fresh even as they pile violence on top of violence.
You don’t typically go to an action film for the acting, but the cast of JOHN WICK: CHAPTER TWO deliver solid performances that will stick in your head. Returning as the titular character is Keanu Reeves (47 RONIN) and his subtle style remains perfect for this ultimate assassin nicknamed The Boogeyman. Reeves plays John Wick as a subdued and quiet character, at least until you wrong him or are interfering in his goals, at which point he becomes a no nonsense machine, and through it all you find him engrossing and believable, which is high praise for a movie that borders on the ludicrous. Riccardo Scamarcio (BURNT) takes on the role of Santino, and he does a decent job but he does come off as a bit one dimensional. Santino is the antagonist in as much as he sets John on his path and complicates it, but other than his ambition and arrogance, we don’t get much from him, but Scamarcio does deliver those emotions well and serves his purpose, which in this case is enough. One of the most intriguing performances comes from Ruby Rose (ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK) who plays Ares, a mute hitman who works for Santino. Rose delivers an excellent performance despite never speaking a word, her expressions, the way she carries herself, and how much of a badass persona she dishes out makes her a scene stealer and you definitely wish there was more of her by the time the movie ends. Another returning actor is Ian McShane (TV’s RAY DONOVAN) and he is delightful as Winston, the proprietor of the New York chapter of The Continental. McShane does such a wonderful job of portraying the calm, collected manager that it is hard to believe he is anything else, his easy manner and innate air of authority works perfectly and makes him one of the most fun supporting characters. One of the most unexpected performances came from Common (SUICIDE SQUAD), who played Cassian, a rival hitman who wants revenge on John over his latest hit. Common has a wonderful on screen presence that makes you like him, but not so much as you like John, creating a perfect rival that adds an interesting element to the film. Lastly, Keanu’s co star from The Matrix, Laurence Fishburne (TV’s BLACK-ISH) has a great cameo as the Bowery King, a man who runs a network of homeless assassins and informants. Fishburne is very fun as this vagabond turned ruler, and while his part is small, he is incredibly memorable as this strange, charismatic man of power.
If you want a great action movie, than you should definitely check out JOHN WICK: CHAPTER TWO. It has memorable characters, a decent story, top notch action, and visuals that will keep you entranced throughout the entire ride. If this is the caliber of work we can expect from sequels in this franchise, than sign me up for a third round, because this movie was some of the most fun I’ve had at the theater in quite some time.
Final Score: 9 out of 10
And check out our review for the original: JOHN WICK Movie Review