In 2014 Thunder Road Pictures released a modern action movie gem with “John Wick” which became a surprise success at the box office and reestablished Keanu Reeves as a legitimate cinematic badass. Now, three years later and joined with Lionsgate, the story continues in “John Wick: Chapter 2” which not only builds heavily on the characters and story from the first film, but proves to be a superior follow-up to the already excellent action thriller that came before it.
“John Wick: Chapter 2” picks up where the first film left off and after Wick, played by Reeves, finally finds a moment of peace he is approached by an old acquaintance to whom he owes a blood debt. Thrust back into his bounty hunter life once again by force, Wick finds himself at the center of a conspiracy against himself and the “High Table”, a council that leads the crime lords of the world, leading to yet another nonstop mission for revenge, only this time he is taking on the same assassins whose world he used to embrace.
The second film in a planned trilogy, “Chapter 2” fills in a lot of the blanks left behind from the first film and does everything a sequel should do. We learn more about Wick’s past, we get to see him in action taking back his assassin role, and we get to explore the expanded universe of underground assassins that make up Wick’s world. As he did in the first film, Reeves brings an exceptional performance as a tortured and frustrated Wick who in one moment can be a no-nonsense badass and the next become a tender and personal human being. After years away from the role it’s nice to see that Reeves was able to recapture everything we loved about his character in the first place and even add to it. I found myself relating to Wick and wanting him to succeed while understanding his frustration and the personal torture he faces in his quest for revenge and redemption.
This second outing also expands on the action, even if it leans a little too hard on an already established formula. Many of the same tropes we saw in the first film are here. We get an epic shootout through a club-style rave and we get the one-shot camera movements that follow Wick around every corner as he takes on wave after wave of foes. However, while these follow the same familiar style of the previous film they add new sights, sounds, and moments of tension that amp up the action to a whole new level. In the same way that “Hardcore Henry” allowed action fans to experience a first-person shooter on the big screen last year, “John Wick: Chapter 2” almost feels like you’re watching a third person shooter play out before your eyes and man is it fun!
I do have one issue with the film, which is honestly minor at best and a little nitpicky. In an age where gender inequality in films is a hot button issue I was a bit surprised by the fact that the film’s one credible female villain, Ares played by Ruby Rose (XXX: Return of Xander Cage) had no verbal lines in the film. It’s great they brought in a badass secondary female antagonist, as they did in the first movie, and sure it was comical to see her exchanges with John Wick play out through sign language, which gave the filmmakers another excuse to use their stylized subtitles, but Ruby Rose has proven to be a powerfully fun actress to watch in these actions movies as of late and eliminating her lines seems like a superfluous detail in the grand scheme of things. It came off, to me at least, as a forced character trait to add some easy depth to her character. For all of the minor shortcomings of “Chapter 2” I felt this was the one glaring issue that took me out of the film at times as I wondered why the character was written this way, but Rose owns the role all the same and not only brings a few laughs but shows women can really kick but in this world of assassins too. Hell you could argue that she represents a strong mute character, which kind of negates my point. It’s all how you look at it.
All the same, “John Wick: Chapter 2” is a fantastically fun movie going experience that’s sure to please fans of the series, both old and new. In an age where quick cuts and overdone action sequences dominate the big screen it’s nice to see the series stick to the stripped down and simple approach the filmmakers took in the first installment and not only build on it, but improve on it in every way. As the first movie did years ago, “John Wick: Chapter 2” challenges its contemporaries to up their anti and shows that there’s more to making a great action movie than, well, nonstop action.