When the original John Wick burst onto the scene just a few short years ago, naysayers were filling the aisles in every direction. “Keanu Reeves as a nefarious hitman on a path of righteous vengeance, all on account of his deceased wife’s murdered dog? Whoa, no thanks.” After its modest release though, the film took on a legend similar to its titular hero. The pandering yet oddly sympathetic plot, the beautifully staged action scenes, the simplistic nature of Reeves’ performance – everything resonated as word-of-mouth spawned another franchise.
John Wick: Chapter Two picks up almost immediately after the events of the first film, putting Reeves back in the driver’s seat as Wick quite literally runs down the thugs who held on to his prized stolen ride. After one of the most invigorating car chases in recent memory, John Wick once again returns home in an attempt to quietly retire to his life of solace.
Unfortunately, once you reemerge into this criminal society, returning to the shadows proves an impossible task. Believing he forfeited his retirement by participating in recent events, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) arrives to call in his marker from assisting Wick years ago on his fabled “impossible task”. Wick attempts to refute D’Antonio’s claim, but the rules of Wick’s underworld are clear: John owes a debt, and it must be paid. Things go awry and double-crosses come at Wick fast and furious, setting off several massive set-pieces while John plays both hunter and prey as we coast towards an unexpected conclusion that easily sets up John Wick: Chapter Three.
What John Wick: Chapter Two does so much better than most sequels of its kind, is it expands on what the audience wants. Instead of just rehashing the same tired premise (which the film gleefully nods to at one point), writer Derek Kolstad designed his screenplay to gradually explore Wick’s secret society as a whole, building another story block at every turn.
If the odd coin currency, Continental’s rules-of-conduct, and overall assassin’s guild caught your curiosity in the first film, prepare for a detailed elaboration. We learn the details of the world and the mythos, yet as Wick lights his fuse, these plot devices never unnecessarily bog down the rhythm of the action scenes as they unfold.
Story schmory, am I right? What you really want to know is how much ass is kicked as Wick turns himself loose on every henchmen his foes can hire on a moment’s notice, yea? The answer is all of it. Asses are kicked, headshots are plentiful, and the choreography is even more visually stunning than the original. Director Chad Stahelski is a breath of fresh air, the guy seems to be the only filmmaker currently in Hollywood who appreciates the magic of just holding the damn camera still.
As most directors these days take 14 cuts to watch a character reload a clip or open a gate, Stahelski cascades his camera through the scene as it develops, as though we were following Jaws himself. Unlike many modern action parades, I can clearly see every kill shot and bone snap, and this is a stark compliment to Stahelski’s confidence in both letting a scene play out and allowing his leading man to carry the weight.
And that brings me to my final point, Keanu Reeves. Even with roles for prominent talent such as Ian McShane, Common and Ruby Rose (yes, we are also treated to an extended cameo with Matrix co-star Laurence Fishburne), there is no mistaking that this film rests solely on Reeves’ shoulders. For far too long, Reeves has been haunted by critical finger pointing at his valley-dude manner-of-speaking as proving he “can’t act”. I call bullshit. In fact, I’m going the other way and laying claim that he may just be one of our most underappreciated actors working today. Does he speak in a leisurely tone? Absolutely. But in terms of his physical presence? He is often unmatched.
Every film he is given insane action work, we are continually “surprised” by both his ability and his mobility. But why? In every film I’ve seen him in, the limber actor commits 100% to every single shot. The fluidity of his movement is astonishing for someone even half his age, yet here he is once again proving his value in the world of entertainment with little appreciation for the skill needed to showcase prowess like this. With each brutal hit, every perfectly timed double-tap gunshot, and even the stunning efficiency at a reload – Keanu Reeves proves once-and-for-all that he is one hell of an actor. Charlie Chaplin caught up in a gun ballet.
I had high expectations for John Wick: Chapter Two and every single one of them were surpassed. You can have Statham, Diesel and Damon. I’ll take the odds of a lone unkempt Keanu Reeves with a pistol and a mission over those wannabes any day.
Starring Keanu Reeves,Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Common, Ruby Rose
Written by Derek Kolstad
Directed by Chad Stahelski