John Wick was film that succeeded because of its simplicity. Keanu Reeves played a former assassin who wanted to quit after his wife dies. Her dying gift to help him grieve is an adorable puppy. A Russian mob boss’ son messes with John and kills his puppy. John seeks vengeance without restraint and the help of a shadowy assassin organization. It was a wonderfully simply yet surprisingly genuine premise to allow for mayhem and madness to unfold. Particularly with the sleek & brutal gun-fu. It was one of 2014’s bigger surprises. So much so that it now has a second chapter. John Wick Chapter 2 decides to open up the world a bit more, giving us a larger peek into the organization so as to raise the stakes for Mr. Wick’s second return from retirement. A noble idea for a sequel, given the few hints at what Ian McShane was doing in the first were intriguing. However, this second chapter in the saga does show that less is definitely more in that department.
Many action films these days suffer from a balance of plot and action. Some overemphasize the other to the point of losing the characters in between. While this second chapter in the John Wick saga doesn’t quite go that far, it definitely does lose something in the mix. We see the reach of this program go much farther than before, to the point of overshadowing the actions. Hell, most of the first act (aside from an exciting opening car chase) is actionless, spending time building up this plot. Of course, the film’s major interest is really the action. We’ll get to that. But it’s important to note that this first act of setting into motion John’s motivations for such actions. And it doesn’t feel nearly as powerful as the more simplistic motives of the previous chapter.What John loses here is far more material and less investing to see him go to these large lengths.
Part of that is quite frankly due to Riccardo Scamarcio as our villain. With the original John Wick, the scruffy arrogance of Alfie Allen and erratic scene chewing of Michael Nyqvist were far more entertaining to watch lead the charge of the various goons that came after John. Scamarcio comes off as more of an elegant retread of Allen, with all the arrogance and none of the smarmy anti-charm that made him so worth hating. He’s a charisma-less catalyst for the action, which makes the scenes of him confronting John in that first act feel so flat. Thankfully, they’re at least cushioned by some a comedic set up between Keanu and Peter Serafinowicz.
If it seems like I’m railing against John Wick Chapter 2 too hard, there’s plenty still to enjoy. After the plot finally settles, the action takes over with brute force. The propulsive nature of the action from the previous film was a glorious display, only matched by the continued lush cinematography and lighting. There’s even more variety here in terms of the action. The first John Wick mainly consisted of headshots. The headshots return here, but are combined with gory hand to hand combat and brutal stunt work. The type that director Chad Stahelski knows so well from his years in stunt work. This particularly becomes the case when Wick comes into full on badass mode during the second act, murdering in quick succession a plethora of assassins in a lead up to this Hall of Mirrors climax.
There’s also a strong cast that commits fully to the silly action and brutal impacts. Keanu carries over his silent-but-furious energy he had from the first film. The type of expert stone faced energy that only Keanu could perfectly bring to life time and time again. He has such a phenomenal lack of concern for anything that’s happening, walking away from disaster with a calm head that only becomes unhinged when he has to destroy someone. That energy is also kept by those around Keanu playing assassins with distinctive personalities. There’s Common matching wits with him. There’s Ruby Rose being sleek & deadly without saying a single word. Laurence Fishburne reunites with his Matrix trilogy co-star with this “King of the Hobos” character that’s delightfully over the top.
Ultimately, John Wick Chapter 2 deserves a lot of credit for not managing to repeat the beats of the first. With a premise as simple as the first film, this could have easily been a complete retread. With all the problems in over complicating the plot unnecessarily, this set up for the action is still intriguing enough to set up John’s eventual wave of destruction. Plus, despite some issues with the finale, it seems as if the set up for a supposed final chapter would give Mr. Wick quite an uphill battle to fight against. One that would make a worthy closer to this universe. Hopefully, that film comes to fruition and allows us to see Keanu to have a solid trilogy for once.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Bloody Pencils
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