Director: Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Ricardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, Common, Ian McShane, Claudia Gerini
Plot: John Wick (Reeves) returns home to resume his retirement, but a face from the past, thinking John is back in the criminal underworld, calls in an unbreakable oath.
John Wick might have been the dark horse of 2014, wowing audiences and critics everywhere, with its brilliant fight choreography and new approach to the action thriller, but it is actually a very hard film to get right when it comes to a sequel. Audiences claim that they are happy with a carbon copy of the first film. What ain’t broke, don’t fix, right? However, in reality, this kind of sequel doesn’t quite work, always feeling watered down, due to the lack of originality. Sequels are meant to take the story to the next logical step and with the first John Wick movie, being a story about a reluctant criminal coming back into the fold one last time, it doesn’t really lend itself to another outing.
To get around the problem, Stahelski goes down the obvious route. As John cements over the basement one last time and hangs up his knives once again, there is a knock on the door. With the sagged shoulders of someone who knows that everything he did in the last movie has created this moment, John answers the door to Ricardo Scamarcio’s Italian crime-lord. Scamarcio calls in a debt struck up with John in his past and demands that he assassinates someone for him. After some handy exposition dialogue given by Ian McShane’s returning hotel manager with ties to this underworld, it is clear that the oath comes attached with one of those unbreakable assassin rules that help writers out of tricky corners. And with that, we are back into the action, Wick heading off to the bulletproof tuxedo tailor and Peter Serafinowicz’s armourer. As feared coming into this movie, there are a few moments where John Wick is hanging onto the past film. There are returning cameos from characters that bring nothing to the story. There’s a punch-up in a nightclub. John Wick Chapter 2 is a movie unsure whether to hang onto the successful first film or branch off into something in its own right. Viewers who want something slightly different will take solace in the variations to the story. For one, Reeves’ performance cleverly reflects how different the stakes are. Last time, Wick was on an one-man vendetta to avenge his dog; this time, he is forced to kill someone he doesn’t really want to kill. If the drama isn’t quite as thrilling as the last movie, because of this crucial change to the tone, the fact that Stahelski is aware he needs to try something different, makes up for this small pitfall. Reeves carries the film with a world-weary reluctance, especially when he is confronted by the person he has to kill. Common’s character acts as a knowing feature to the movie, the assassin in charge with guarding Wick’s target, who ends up taking Wick on to protect his ward. It helps explain John Wick’s reluctance and perhaps the reason he left this world in the first place: in Chapter 2, he is the bad guy. Common’s character arc shares beats with John’s in the first movie and Keanu Reeves, while asked to play John Wick stoically throughout, conveys the sense of a man who knows this and it is rotting him from the inside. It adds enough meat to the bones of this movie to make it a worthy sequel and one that adds just enough to separate John Wick from his past.
Of course, even when this movie is trapped in the need to make the sequel as much like the original as possible, it, at the very least, does it with breath-taking skill. Any cinema lover will tell you how much more John Wick is than a movie about a smartly-dressed bloke taking out extra after extra. As fun as Wick mowing down enemy after enemy is in well choreographed fight sequences, it would get very old if Stahelski wasn’t as competent a director as he is. It is about so much more than training Reeves up to be a killing machine or making sure the fights need as few cuts as possible. John Wick Chapter 2 is a film of unflappable style and impeccable taste. There are just some odd beats that really build up this sense of mysticism that surrounds the movies. Ruby Rose features as a suit-wearing mute, who is so mesmerising and mysterious to look at, that the actress doesn’t even have to do anything to bring something to the film. The cinematography is superb. When the movie hits its final fight scene, a gun fight in a stunningly beautiful maze of mirrors, a knowing reference to Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, you are blown away at Stahelski’s faultless direction. And that is just the flourish for the ending. The entire film has several moments of brilliance from Keanu Reeves taking on Common in a subway train, to a montage where Wick fights three different groups of assassins sent to kill him (watch out for the infamous pencil scene). There is absolutely stunning piece of film-making involving Claudia Gerini in a bath-tub (that statement will sound less perverted when you see it for yourself). There is a lot of fan pandering going on with John Wick Chapter 2, but, at the same time, we could argue, the first was aiming for the same tone. What John Wick does is give the audience a thrilling ride which ends with an interesting conclusion that will throw the third movie on its head.
Final Verdict: John Wick Chapter 2 is guilty of staying too close to the original, but is still good, honest fun with some stunning choreography.