A sequel is a very tricky state of affairs. While it has become less and less of a factor nowadays with the age of franchises, sequels, and spinoffs we’re in, there are still movies that aren’t equipped for a sequel. Arguably the first John Wick was one of those. After all, by the end of the movie John’s war was over, and while he hadn’t completely moved on, he did manage to find some measure of peace. The question is: how do you avoid doing a sequel for what, on the surface, is a rather finite story? The answer is inherent in the language of sequels: you go bigger and badder. And in John Wick’s case, that’s easy when there was such a detailed world built into what, at its core, is a revenge story.
Keanu Reeves returns as the titular character, and he brings a completely different energy to this installment. The original film started John on the path of destruction by setting him off while he was still in raw pain from his wife’s death. By the time the sequel has kicked off though, that thirst for revenge has faded with more distance, and he attempts to eke out a peaceful life with his dog and at least honor his wife’s memory. So what’s the best (and worst way) to draw out John once more? Trap him with no way out.
One of the things that makes the Wick movies great is that Keanu has a great deal of talent to bounce his own fury up against, and Santonio D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) is more than up to that challenge. It also makes the best choice a sequel can make which is to both subvert and up the ante from the first. While John was (for a good chunk of the first movie) practically invulnerable, this movie does a great deal to stretch John’s stamina to its limits, Keanu gets beaten way more bloody this time around, and Chad Stahelski’s directing has only gotten more vicious in the last three years
The movie is also a visual feast for anyone who’s even remotely an action fan. With what is clearly a bigger budget, the movie manages to do several sequences that go above and beyond the nightclub scene from the first film. A couple of examples would be: a shootout at a mafia coronation, a long sequence that could best be described as the R-rated version of the seminal Person of Interest episode, “The Crossing”, and a battle in a nouveau hall of mirrors. The sequences have Keanu getting grimy and bloody, but when you have such impressive backgrounds, it almost becomes a weird fusion of anime and the Hong Kong cinema influences this movie wears on its sleeve.
By far, however, my favorite part of Chapter 2 is that there’s barely any fat. It’s as efficient and ruthless as John himself. Not that there isn’t time for character development – it certainly finds time to develop ancillary characters like Charon, Winston, or the Bowery King – but it gives you what you need and doesn’t stuff you with unnecessary desserts. In that way it’s closer to something like Die Hard or Speed (also starring Keanu) rather than the bloated action movies of today. One could go on all day, but this is a masterpiece of filmmaking. There’s great directing, performances, and action. What more do you need?
5 Markers out of 5