Flying under the radar with little notice in 2014, its remarkable the effect that John Wick had on the action movie world upon its release.
The story of an ex-hitman (Keanu Reeves) brought back into the world of crime after the death of his wife, the murdering of his dog, and the robbery of his car, John Wick was ostensibly a favor from Reeves to members of the stunt team of The Matrix, but lead to something much bigger.
Word of mouth grew that the film was something to take in, mixing beautifully shot, hard-nosed action with hints of a deeper mythos surrounding the crime world featured within the film.
A minor but impressive $43 Million take at the box office lead to solid home video sales, a run on HBO (where I first saw it bleary-eyed after a late night) and this conversation playing out countless times between action fans around the world:
FAN 1: Hey, have you seen John Wick yet?
FAN 2: No, no I haven’t. Didn’t that star Keanu?
FAN 1: HOLY SHIT YOU NEED TO SEE IT RIGHT NOW.
Like so, John Wick’s directors, ex-stuntmen David Leitch and Chad Stahelski were put on the map, and Keanu Reeves was back as a lead actor.
And now, three years later, Stahelski and Reeves are back (Leitch was busy working on his next movie, Atomic Blonde) with the appropriately titled John Wick: Chapter 2.
Picking up right where the first film left off, we follow John as he is looking to close up the hitman chapter in his life, trying to get back his beloved Mustang. The movie wastes no time delivering a strong action set piece, with Leitch giving us an all-time great chase sequence, and finding a way to mix up fights in and out of the car, setting an incredible pace at the start.
The movie continues into a detour into plot town, with John Wick being visited by Italian crime lord Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), and D’Antonio revealing to the audience that Wick owes him a life-debt, as D’Antonio was instrumental to the mission that finally allowed Wick to retire from his life of crime (however short-lived it was.)
Once again giving us a glimpse into the rules and regulations of the Hitman society that makes John’s world go-round, John Wick: Chapter 2 quickly turns into a world-spanning adventure, sending our favorite hitman from New York to Rome and back.
The script from Derek Kolstad (who also wrote the first film) so clearly enjoys filling out the details of the hitman world – a scene involving a Sommelier played by Peter Serafinowicz is a particular standout – that it’s a shame that it sputters when it comes to moments explaining characters and plot. While it’s true that the first film kept details sparse, John Wick: Chapter 2 aims higher, but falters the closer it gets to the sun.
Thankfully, the action remains fantastic, with some incredibly inventive set pieces, including a montage of Wick fighting assassin’s around New York, a clever stealthy subway fight, and a brilliant third act confrontation in a hall of mirrors.
Reeves provides a solid performance, and is supported by actors who are clearly enjoying their time in the Wick-verse, including rapper Common as a fellow hitman, and gal-of-the-moment Ruby Rose as a mute bodyguard. The real joy, however, is the first post-Matrix reunion of Reeves and Laurence Fishburne, with Fishburne hamming it up hard as an underground crime lord.
Look – John Wick: Chapter 2 isn’t a perfect movie, but where it falls flat on plotting, it makes up for it with brilliant, gleeful violence. In fact, it brings another recent action sequel to mind: The Raid 2 a movie that went bigger on all fronts compared to the first, and as a result, ended up making a movie as equally good as the original. The same can be said here. If you loved John Wick, you’ll love John Wick: Chapter 2. And if you love John Wick: Chapter 2, good news…looks like Chapter 3 is on its way.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is in theaters now.