Quick Take: Keanu Reeves is back in John Wick: Chapter 2, and everything is ramped up, as this world is fully fleshed out and John's retirement plans hit a huge snag.
John Wick (Keanu Reeves) just can’t seem to catch a break. He met the love of his life in Helen (Bridget Moynahan), and made deals to leave the business of killing-for-hire to spend the rest of his life with her. But cancer had other plans, and John was left alone, with only the final gift from his loving wife — a dog — to help ease the pain of his immeasurable loss. After his dog was killed and his car was stolen, John re-entered his dark, seedy world of assassins to exact his revenge, and now, John Wick: Chapter 2 continues his story as things are about to get way more complicated for the “man you send to kill the boogeyman.”
John Wick: Chapter 2 opens as John works to get his stolen car back, wrapping up the conflicts from the first film. Shortly after, he is visited at home by Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), an Italian man who holds John’s marker, a device that Wick used to negotiate his exit from the business years ago. By coming back and exacting his revenge, he has made the marker valid, and D’Antonio wants John to honor it by taking out D’Antonio’s sister, Gianna (Cladia Gerini), who happens to have a seat at the high table in the organization. John refuses, and D’Antonio destroys Wick’s house, and the last remembrances of his life with Helen.
John is once again pulled back in, this time full-on, and his job is to satisfy the marker, which sends him to Rome. But since this is John Wick, the hit has even more consequences, and John is now left out to dry from the organization he worked for, and he is hunted by friends and colleagues, as he fights to confront D’Antonio once and for all. Standing in his way are Cassian (Common), who was the bodyguard of Gianna D’Antonio, and Santino’s right hand, the silent and beautiful Ares (Ruby Rose).
John turns to the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), a one-time assassin who successfully left the business — one way or another — for help, as John’s actions are quickly leading up to a war for the seat at the high table, a war that could hurt the Bowery King’s business. This all leads to a massive confrontation throughout New York between John and just about every single assassin in the world. As I said, John Wick cannot catch a break.
John Wick: Chapter 2 does a magnificent job of world building here. The aspects of this underworld were only hinted at in the first film, and in Chapter 2, screenwriter and Wick creator Derek Kolstad takes the time to flesh out his ideas and create a distinct hierarchy in this world. This series, in two films, has built up a better mythology than most comic book movies, and those films have decades of source material to draw from for context. The world of John Wick is deeper, richer, and more profound now, and kudos to Derek Solstad for pulling that off, again, in about four hours of screen time. As any good sequel does, John Wick: Chapter 2 takes the best parts of the first film and then ramps it up for more, more, more. More action, more story, bigger and better set pieces, and more stunts. Oh, and more killing.
John Wick, when he is working, is a marvel to watch in action, and director Chad Stahelski, a stunt coordinator and Keanu Reeves’ stunt double in his earlier films, puts Reeves through the paces like a master. The action and gunfights are fluid and fast, almost like watching a dancer tell a story with their body. Keanu Reeves, as John Wick, has found the perfect character to play, and this is one franchise — and make no mistake, after Chapter 2, this is a franchise — that could go on and on, as long as the principal creators remain in place. Only Kolstad can write these films; only Stahelski can direct them; and only Keanu Reeves can play John Wick.
The set pieces and locations are once again wonderfully lit and staged, and the use of color and sound makes John Wick: Chapter 2 a feast for most of the senses. One climatic scene in the third act takes place in a hall of mirrors, and I just don’t have the words to describe how cool this is. It has to be seen to be enjoyed fully. John travels across the world, back and forth, and the audience gets to see how the assassins guild, for lack of a better term, is ran in two different cities. The hints of a higher level of assassins — the High Table — gives the audience something to chew on well after the last credit has rolled, and sets up Chapter 3 sometime in the future.
John Wick: Chapter 2 can be compared to many films, including The Empire Strikes Back in the way that it took the ideas from the first film and expanded on them to fuller effect. The film I compare it to is actually The Godfather Part II, and I say that with a straight face. Whereas The Godfather introduced the world to the Corleone family and the ways of the Costa Nostra, it was Part II that really gave the story context and actually made the first film better, which is a feat so rarely seen in sequels of any medium. John Wick: Chapter 2 does that. It juggles the primary characters that we’ve already met, like Winston (Ian McShane), the manager of the Continental Hotel in New York, and Charon (Lance Reddick) the concierge, and adds so many more, including some pretty interesting cameos, including Franco Nero as Julius, Winston’s Italian counterpart in Rome. This screen world is now a living, breathing entity, and John Wick serves as the driver on this violent, thrilling, and dare I say fun car ride to hell.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is in the upper echelon of sequels, as it fleshes out the world it created in the first film, while retaining all of the elements that made the first film a surprise success. Everything is bigger, brighter, louder, and more violent here, and fans are given another long look into this world that just bleeds coolness from every pore, and I know that Chapter 3 is a long ways off, but knowing that it is coming makes me excited. John Wick is, without a doubt, my new favorite film franchise, and I can’t wait to see what comes next. John Wick isn’t retiring anytime soon, and we can all be thankful for that.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is rated R and is in theaters on February 10.