“John Wick: Chapter 2” is the “Citizen Kane” of action sequels.
Yes. It is that extraordinary. It’s not perfect, but it does more to deepen and change the genre for the better than any other film in recent memory — or long-term memory, for that matter. “John Wick: Chapter 2” is a neo-noir extravaganza that will have the thinking person cheering with glee; a frenzied display of gunplay that rises to the level of high art.
The original “John Wick” revitalized Keanu Reeves’ career and introduced a complex world of hired assassins. It was small-scale, cruel and dripping with cool. “John Wick: Chapter 2” attempts to go bigger, crueler and cooler — a mission statement that usually spells death for an action sequel.
But oh, does “John Wick: Chapter 2” pull it off with magnificent style. Or rather, director Chad Stahelski pulls it off, against all odds: the man used to be Keanu Reeves’ stunt double for “The Matrix”, and now he’s crafted an action film that might be better than that classic. His vision is as uncompromising as John Wick himself.
The inciting incident that sent the legendary killer on a rampage in the original was the theft of his car and murder of his puppy, the latter of which was the final gift from his dying wife. It was a simple setup that gave first-time director Stahelski and new screenwriter Derek Kolstad room to play. They established a character and a world with intricate histories, though it felt like a template for something greater later on.
Well, now they’ve gone and decimated John Wick’s home, and someone has to pay. It should be you, paying to see this movie: the filmmakers deliver on each promise tantalizingly left by the first “John Wick”. The story recognizes the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule of screenwriting to an impressive degree: the details of the mysterious assassins’ society direct the plot at every turn but are rarely explained; Wick’s internal struggle is palpable in his eyes and actions but seldom stated outright.
The world building is brilliant — though the story’s smartest move is the intensity it stirs from shattering it. “John Wick: Chapter 2”, with steady control, drops hints that let the viewer fill in the narrative to their desire. The film’s backstory is as rich as you’ll let it be, and rest assured, there’s an imaginative amount of material to stitch together amid the gunshots if your mind is able.
There’s no shame in engrossing yourself in the action though. The film creates beauty in brutality: it’s like staring into a Van Gogh work painted entirely with blood and viscera. This sequel picked up “Crimson Peak” cinematographer Dan Laustsen, who saturates set pieces and dazzling locations with an artistic sensibility that will shoot your jaw clean off. Stop to appreciate the scenery that the bullets are flying through.
Look for the visual ties to the movie’s themes too. This action movie has a lot to say about fear of damnation and the futility of escaping from oneself, themes it develops with clever visual touches throughout.
The action choreography is mercilessly blunt, framing inventive killings with a fixation that would make other R-rated movies blush. “John Wick: Chapter 2” bleeds slick, elegant violence but is self-aware enough to diffuse situations with humor. It knows how over-the-top it is: Wick and his assassin cohorts are killers of few words, and when they do speak, the dialogue is usually a knowing wink to the audience. Keanu Reeves understands this best of all. Common, Laurence Fishburne, and Ian McShane follow his lead with gusto. Ruby Rose’s mute character does silently.
The finale is mostly a dour setup for the next installment, but if this sequel’s quality is any indicator, “John Wick: Chapter 3” could be the best action movie ever made.
★★★★½ (4.5 out of 5)