John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Directed by Chad Stahelski
Written by Derek Kolstad

When John Wick came out in 2014, it made a splash. It was a surprise hit which relaunched the action career of Keanu Reeves, who had made a name for himself within the genre with such films as Point Break and The Matrix, yet had disappeared mostly from the genre landscape. It marked the directorial debut for longtime stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski, and proved that fresh air could be breathed into the genre once more. The film has since had it’s slight detractors, claiming all the accolades and attention coming towards John Wick merely serve to underscore the fact that the action genre is so consistently disappointing, inartistic and generally a lower genre of films. It’s not every year we can get a Die Hard or The Matrix to come out and redefine the genre. John Wick may not be on that level, but it’s a fantastic action flick more than worthy of a sequel. And John Wick: Chapter 2 delivers.

After the events of the first John Wick film, John (Keanu Reeves) finds himself wanting to retrieve his beloved car from the Tarasov family. After a thrilling romp through numerous henchmen, Wick rolls up to his beautiful home in a broken car. Thinking this was the last piece to bring himself back into retirement, an old friend, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) visits Wick and asks for his marker, which Wick gave to him in return for his help once, to be paid up. His request? To kill his sister, Gianna D’Antonio, in Rome, which would give Santino a seat at the big table. Forced by the code of honor among criminals to honor the marker, Wick travels to Rome, but soon finds himself in an impossible situation to escape, as gangsters from all over are out to collect the reward placed on his head. He seeks refuge with the father of the code (Ian McShane), a former target (Laurence Fishburne), as he tries tirelessly to simply retire, to get out of the game and back to his new dog.

Any time a surprise hit follows up with a sequel, there is quite a bit of expectation which goes along with it, a lot of expectation which wasn’t there when the first film came out and made such an impact. Sometimes this can cause the film is fold under the pressures of its audience, never being able to live up to its unrealistic expectations. I was not one of John Wick‘s superfans. I found the film endlessly entertaining, and a rock solid action flick. That being said, even I had some expectation for Chapter 2, which may have been the reason it took me some time to settle back into this environment and to be able to throw everything out the window, as the film does, and sit back and enjoy the hellacious ride that this film takes us on. It is every bit as violent as its predecessor, with just as much, if not more, truly unbelievable sequences. Yet I suspended disbelief in favor of surrendering myself to the film’s charms, of which there are many.

I think what ultimately makes a film like this so enjoyable is its structure. Anyone can make a cool, gory, high body count assassin movie where the lead is some mysterious dude who kills a ton of baddies, but I really got into the world of John Wick with Chapter 2. The way the film explores the way the world of assassins is setup into this prestigious and honorable fraternity with high tables, rules, organizations, etc. is really fascinating. It goes so much deeper here than I would have imagined, and by creating this structure, the screenwriter, the same as on John Wick (Derek Kolstad), has built-in character reasons. We don’t have to worry about why John and the other characters are forced into these otherwise unbelievable positions. They have to be. They are forced by the rules of the game. It’s a subtle way to assure the movie works, but in many ways it’s also genius.

At times the film has a distinct video game feel to its action, which why not given the current video game culture. But the choreography of the action scenes is also impressive, which elevates the film above some rote rehash of what the filmmakers thought made the first movie work as well as it did, which can be a common crutch of filmmakers attempting to make a successful sequel. I don’t have John Wick fatigue yet after Chapter 2, and I’m sure almost all fans of the first film will feel the same way. I am sure a third installment is forth coming, and after the thrilling experience of John Wick: Chapter 2, you can count me among those who are exciting, and anticipating its release. I just can’t wait to see where John Wick goes as a character, and how the screenwriters will continue to develop this fascinating criminal world.

***1/2 – Great

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