MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Action/ Stars: Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Bridget Moynahan, Lance Reddick, Thomas Sadoski, David Patrick Kelly, Peter Stormare, Franco Nero, Peter Serafinowicz/ Runtime: 122 minutes
While waiting in line to see my advance screening of John Wick: Chapter 2 moviegoers I can honestly say that I really truly had one principal fear. That is the fear that as great and unique as the first film had been I was afraid that the filmmakers would use the follow-up to only further emphasize the amazing action sequences and in the process downplay the fantastically-detailed world of assassins that had been designed and drawn-up in the original movie. Upon seeing the movie however, and because I know others will share this concern, I will just state this right here and right now and get it over with: that is absolutely not the kind of sequel that audiences are being delivered in John Wick: Chapter Two. Instead this is the rarity amongst sequels in that here is a sequel that not only gives us everything we loved and thought was absolutely phenomenal about its predecessor, but then manages to do the unthinkable and builds off of that and manages to deliver a fresh new story that manages, with the help of amazingly shot action sequences, and a fantastic and game cast of characters, to expand this universe in fresh, unique, and creative ways we never could’ve imagined.
The plot is as follows: John Wick: Chapter 2 picks up the loose threads left by the first film and manages to weave them into a wholly new, wholly awesome narrative as we see that loose thread number one happens to be the stolen car John Wick failed to recover before the end of the first film, but I can, without going into spoilers, say that he sorts that out in a truly spectacular action sequence full of crushed vehicles and smashed bodies. Yet it’s the second loose thread that takes up a good chunk of what drives the plot of this film forward. This is because it arrives in the form of further exploration of John Wick’s infamous “Impossible Task”. In case you don’t remember, this was the ultimately successful mission referenced in the first film that allowed him to leave the assassin life and be with his dearly departed love Helen (Bridget Moynahan). The reason this narrative thread is rehashed fellow viewers is because it turns out that one of the reasons why our hero was able to complete this life-changing assignment was because he had help from an ally named Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio). Yet in order to receive this help Wick had to give up a Marker which is a blood oath in the form of a giant coin that promises a favor at some point in the future and while Santino had no intention to have John repay his debt while he was retired, John’s return to killing and doing what he does best as seen in the first film has inspired the former friend to come a’calling. So Santino has come out of the proverbial shadows to request that John assassinate a woman named Gianna Marchesi (Claudia Gerini), who is not only Santino’s sister, but who has also taken their deceased father’s seat at the table of the international assassins’ guild. John however, understanding the potential devastating fallout from the kill and also just wanting some bloody peace at long last, initially turns Santino down, but after paying a serious price, Wick finds himself on his way to Rome to complete the job and in the process finds a whole new collection of targets on his back…
Now one of the big things that I can honestly say for me that helped make the first John Wick stand out as an exceptional action film for me was much more than audacious and legitimately special action sequences. Rather it was the level of detail, right down to a collection of rules that the film used to set up an entire world, with most of the previously-stated collection of rules seemingly revolving around a unique assassins’ hotel that also serves as a kind of neutral turf known as The Continental. I can honestly say then that John Wick: Chapter 2 does an amazing job of doubling down on this extremely impressive aspect of what I can now call a growing series, and manages to expand John’s world in excellent and fun fashion, with only part of that is going international. Indeed the best example of this to be found in the entire film is a chunk of the movie when, amidst all of the gun play and martial arts battles, we as an audience get to witness John go through a kind-of preparation montage, unfortunately Eye of the Tiger was not playing, and meet up with the proper vendors in order to acquire all the gear, weapons, and misc. requirements he will need while he is dealing with his mission in Rome. Yet without ever being over-heavy with exposition the movie manages to provide a new level of richness to this extremely meticulous and detailed universe that has been created, and in the process manages to brilliantly add to the stakes and also just making everything we witness go down in the film that much more compelling.
Now the balancing act of reintroducing characters and meeting new players is obviously a major part of this as well. Indeed while to be fair the first John Wick saw 2 of its more fascinating ensemble sadly meet with untimely demises, the film still has more than enough great personalities off of which Keanu Reeves can play (oh and it’s definitely worth mentioning that Keanu Reeves once again puts in another amazing performance in a role that further suggests that this is a part, alongside Neo and Johnny Utah, that he just may have been born to play). Now as far as familiar faces in the continuity, it really truly is great to see the return of Ian McShane’s Winston, the wry and smooth manager of the New York Continental, Lance Riddick’s Charon, the hotel’s loyal concierge and even John Leguizamo’s Aurelio, John’s favorite car guy pops up for a little bit. Yet as good as it was seeing all those familiar faces again it’s the new blood in this cast that really truly keeps the movie’s heart pumping and alive with electrifying energy as we get Ruby Rose who is excellent as Santino’s mute main henchwoman Ares who also proves to be quite the match to John, Common who does a phenomenal job as a bodyguard named Cassian, who has his own personal reasons for wanting to see John Wick die, and who we also get to witness John go at it with in several amazing fight scenes, and when you add such icons as original Django Franco Nero as the manager of the Rome Continental, and the always great Lawrence Fishburne as the leader of a homeless assassin/spy network in New York (trust me it’s as awesome and amazing as it sounds), you find that the end result really truly is a movie that in all honesty is never finding itself falling short in the badass department.
Now as I alluded to earlier, the one sure thing that was to be expected of John Wick: Chapter 2 is incredible white-knuckle inducing action sequences. Suffice it to say then that the sequel in all honesty does not disappoint in even the slightest. Indeed to be fair while the fight in the Red Circle Club scene from the first film set a very high bar for expectations for this sequel and just action films in general I can honestly say that it’s a bar that the new movie giddily leaps over. This is because we get not one but several amazing sequences that top that alone from the aforementioned car reclamation to a drawn out gunfight in the catacombs of Rome to an attack in what is basically a house of mirrors. Yet the most amazing thing about it all is that the set pieces are not just brutally real and thrilling, but also, in a strange way, they are also beautiful. This is because the director of the movie does a brilliant job of finding impressively dynamic angles in order to best capture for our viewing pleasure the hardest hits and also liberally using color and shadow to make these sequences work as well as they do. Plus all of the blasts and blows, which thanks to amazing stunt work by everyone involved, are now shockingly real and thanks to that authenticity much more gripping, just pop right off the screen and make you feel as if you are actually there watching all of this unfold before your very eyes.
All in all John Wick: Chapter 2 is an absolutely fantastic sequel in that not only does it have a story very much worth telling, but it also manages to build on the characters and world audiences were introduced to in the first film in truly exciting and creative ways. Honestly this is also one of the few titles that actually legitimizes its unfortunately bland subtitle. Indeed I’ll even go so far as to say that based off how great this one and its predecessor have been in all honesty Chapter 3 couldn’t have come soon enough. On a scale of 1-5 I give John Wick: Chapter 2 a solid 4 out of 5.