John Wick: Chapter 2 is a 2017 neo-noir action thriller, directed by Chad Stahelski and starring Keanu Reeves once again as the titular character. Following the conclusion of the first film, John tracks down his stolen car to a chop shop run by Abram Tarasov (Peter Stormare), the brother and uncle of the antagonists in the first film. After making “peace” John tries to return to a normal life, only to be visited by Italian crime lord Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), who sees John’s recent rampage as an opportunity to collect upon a blood oath that John swore to him many years prior. Unable to refuse, despite wanting to, John is thrust back into the world of killing and carnage with hopes to free himself and return to a quieter life once again.
I really like that this film wasn’t quite a typical sequel, i.e. doing the same thing but bigger. In a lot of ways it does do this, taking John to more exotic locations with higher-stakes antagonists, but the underlying premise is different. He doesn’t get robbed yet again, suffering the fatality of a pet in the process yet again — his new, unnamed dog that he rescued at the end of the first film is never harmed — but rather has the past catching up with him as a result of his actions in the first movie. The first film had him seeking retribution, this follow-up has him forced to fulfill an obligation. It introduces something new about John’s past and about the world he inhabits in an organic way that doesn’t feel contrived. It shows that even though his actions do seem outside of the law’s intervention, there are still consequences for him as well.
The stylish action sequences and heavy “gun-fu” are maintained and still a lot of fun to watch. The violence is beautifully over-the-top while consistent with the more grounded touches like emphasis on ammunition count that I appreciated in the first one. Also, I hadn’t consciously realized before, there are frequent long takes and use of a static camera in the John Wick films that make the action scenes more engaging, rather than “shaky cam” distracting with the illusion of hectic movement.
They mix things up a little this time as well, giving him more interesting combatants in Ares (Ruby Rose), Santino’s mute security enforcer, and more notably Cassian (Common), Giana D’Antonio’s (Claudia Gerini) chief body guard. John still fights against plenty of unnamed henchmen and the like, but I appreciated that these characters had a little more to them, making John’s encounters with them more personal and intense. At times, while I didn’t want John to lose I didn’t really want him to win either, as Cassian, for instance, has a sympathetic reason for wanting to take down John himself.
Reeves’ performance is consistently stoic and badass, though again a little too wooden at times for me. John is about as strong a character that he needs to be for the story being told, I just feel there could be a little extra oomph to how he’s performed. We do get a few moments that flesh him out better, showing his reluctance and regret about continuing a life of violence, and while they could have been more frequent they were still effective. Most particularly was his encounter with Giana, which was much more poignant than I had anticipated leading up to it.
The world of John Wick is expanded upon a lot in this film, giving us a better look at the extent of the criminal underworld John once fought so desperately to escape. This put him in the path of the Bowery King, a mysterious crime lord played by Laurence Fishburne. It was great to see Reeves and Fishburne on screen together again — the first time since The Matrix Trilogy — this time Fishburne in a helpful yet adversarial role. The film did a good job expanding the workings of this underworld overall, keeping some things a little enigmatic for continued mystique, but seeing how they’ve set up for a third installment I’m a little wary that things will start to get too silly when/if more gets revealed.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is a worthy sequel to a fantastic action film. It’s not as solid of a package as its predecessor, but has certainly got me excited to see where John’s story ends up in the third and presumably final chapter. He’s a widower who’s yet to mourn in peace, and I wonder if he ever can.