‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ Review: Second Verse, Just as Good as the First
In 2014, a pair of veteran stunt coordinators introduced the world to John Wick, a former assassin who rages out of retirement to seek revenge on the man who killed his puppy. With action as sharp and seamless as the impeccable suits worn by its eponymous protagonist, John Wick reinvigorated a genre bloated with CGI and dominated by implausible acrobatics. In 2017, Keanu Reeves is back with John Wick: Chapter 2, a righteous follow-up that’s bigger and maybe not better, but just as good as its predecessor.
The second chapter of John Wick’s odyssey finds the assassin forced out of retirement (again) when a former colleague (Riccardo Scamarcio) comes to collect on a blood oath, which is just as cool as it sounds. John Wick remains the perfect vessel for Reeves’ particular set of skills; he’s a man who does more than he says in a world that’s more interested in showing than telling. Even so, Chad Stahelski’s solo follow-up to his co-directorial debut with David Leitch does a little more telling this time around — this is a sequel, after all, and certain narrative requirements must be met, particularly when you take a trip to Italy.
As promised, Chapter 2 expands the alluring mythology of the Wickiverse, introducing new foes, a Coppola-esque family mob saga, and a pigeon-wielding eccentric played by a scenery-devouring Laurence Fishburne (who, by the way, has the single best line in the entire film). Those who are more interested in exquisitely choreographed action sequences than things like hotels for assassins and expository afternoon tea with Ian McShane may find the sequel slightly tedious at times. But if, like me, you’re as fascinated by Wick’s underground assassin mythos as their dirty work, Chapter 2 is as satisfying as the first.
With sequels, we expect bigger and better things; Chapter 2 includes John’s new dog (a sweet, obedient pit bull that he deliberately keeps out of harm’s way) and an onslaught of foes that become curiously — and cleverly — more pervasive as the film progresses and a sizable bounty is placed on John’s head. Those foes include a mute assassin played by Ruby Rose, and a private bodyguard named Cassian. Played by Common, he is every bit as smooth and efficient as our protagonist and shares a similar knack for bespoke suits; Cassian is essentially what would happen if John Wick had never retired.
Stylistically, Chapter 2 is appropriately Euro-flavored (think ’70s psycho-thrillers, vampiric soaps, and a colorful tinge of Giallo), exchanging much of the first film’s neon lighting for something a bit more elegant. There’s a moment early on when John pays a visit to the sister (Claudia Gerini) of his former colleague in an effort to settle his debt; the full cost of that blood oath is unveiled in a visually arresting image that finds surprising beauty in gruesome sorrow.
The neon does eventually make its way back into the aesthetic as all gunfire and hell breaks loose in an impressive third act, when John confronts his adversaries in a hall of mirrors. That exceptionally choreographed action sequence proves Stahelski is just as effective and efficient a director on his own. Choosing to film in a labyrinth decked in floor-to-ceiling mirrors is kind of a showy move, but Stahelski delivers a scene that is just completely awesome. There are arguably more “experienced” directors who would never have the balls to even attempt such a thing.
Chapter 2 ends on a tantalizing note with implications about John Wick’s no-so-hidden world of assassins that easily paves the way for a Chapter 3 — a sequel that Stahelski and screenwriter Derek Kolstad are eager to make. Should John Wick somehow fail to capture audiences again, however, the final shot of Chapter 2 makes for a strangely satisfying conclusion, one that leaves a few questions unanswered, and shows far more than it tells.