Chad Stahelski and Keanu Reeves team up once again to bring us second chapter of John Wick’s story, but does it go down the path of Taken 2, or The Raid 2?
The final result is somewhere in the middle.
History has taught us most sequels fail to deliver on their predecessor’s works, it is after all a difficult task to enhance and build on a story that people have come to love. John Wick: Chapter 2 however avoids the pitfalls the likes of Taken 2 so willingly jumped into by delivering a relentless action assault on the senses, whilst expanding on the mythology the first film only scratched the surface of. However sometimes there can be such a thing as too much action.
Picking up not long after the first film John Wick finds himself being approached by the shady characters of the world he tried so hard to leave behind. As Ian McShane’s Winston foreshadowed so wonderfully in the first film “you dip so much as a pinky back into this pond…you may well find something reaches out…and drags back into its depths”, and reach out they do. After hearing of his return Santino D’Antonio, a young Italian crime lord, visits looking to cash in on a blood oath John gave to him in return for his help during John’s “impossible task” that got him out of the game. The task, to kill Santino’s sister so that he can take her place on the “high table”, a council of major criminal overlords. Despite initially refusing the proposal John is given little choice by Santino and undertakes the job. As a result John makes a new assortment of enemies as a bounty is placed on his head, leading all assassins to him leaving him in the unenviable position of fight or die.
Chad Stahelski continues to demonstrate a flair for directing action like few others can emulate, his work as a stuntman and coordinator paying dividends when controlling the camera. Rather than unnecessary blurry quick cuts (We’re looking at you Michael Bay) that attempt to give the illusion of fast action, Stahelski and his team opt for letting the stunts and choreography do all the work as it executes flawlessly in front of the camera. It’s this kind of film making that helped the first film stand out from the crowd, and allows this sequel to stand alongside it. However as good as some of the action is, the sequel is 20 minutes longer than the original and towards the end it borders on repetitive. You can only have John Wick dispatch so many identical nameless bodyguards with bullets before it gets a bit tiresome, which is not how the first film felt at all. The best of the action comes from the deeply personal combat scenes between John and Cassian (Common) as they battle it out through Italy and New York as two blunt objects trying to get the best of one another. They’re the most interesting and riveting sequences simply because it’s not just John mowing down countless bodies.
One of the standout elements that I adored from the first film was it teased this high class underworld of criminal organisations and assassins that operated differently to what we’ve seen before. Thankfully the sequel continues to dig a little deeper into the mythology (Derek Kolstad returning on writing duty) as the action goes continental. We learn of blood oaths, wards, and a council of criminal overlords we’ve yet to see. Unfortunately these elements are merely teased, which is unfortunate because a sequel should be fleshing them out a little more. We also get to see the crazy extent of how many assassins there are supposedly working in the world, which at one point just feels ridiculous, but once again teases a wider world of characters and personalities that we could discover in the future. One of the things the film misses out on using or growing on is the shadow of John’s late wife Helen. She loomed large over the first film, a motivating factor throughout John’s blood soaked revenge mission which grounded the deadliest assassin of them all. But in Chapter 2 clinical deathly precision replaces Reeves emotional strife we felt him suffer through previously.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is most certainly one of the finer action films you’ll see this year, with some of the best action directing your likely to see without CGI. However despite being an very entertaining ballet of bullets with a slick visual aesthetic, it doesn’t pack the emotional punch of it’s predecessor as the larger scale dilutes the concentrated power of John Wick. But you’re not here for that are you? You’re here for guns, blood, and bullets, which Chapter 2 has a full magazine of.
It’s definitely not Taken 2