Playing in theaters nationwide is the second chapter of the “John Wick” series. Now I’m a huge fan of the first film, which is a wonderful ‘70s-style revenge thriller that drew heavily from Hong Kong actioners and old westerns.
Considering how blockbusters have taken the “Bourne” method of quick editing — often creating an unpleasant sewing machine effect — “John Wick” was a breath of fresh air for its simple (but effective) narrative and its fluid fight choreography.
In addition to being a violent romp, it introduced a hyper-universe of hit men and gave Keanu Reeves another classic character that played to his physical strengths.
Picking up where its predecessor left off, “Chapter 2” begins as Wick attempts a life of retirement with his new dog. But after refusing to kill again, a crime lord bombs his home and leaves Wick with no other choice than to assassinate the lord’s sister in Rome. From that point on, codes are broken, loyalties are tested and Wick has to push his own limits to make the hit and stay alive.
With Chad Stahelski returning to direct, who was one of Reeves’ stunt doubles on the “Matrix” movies, “Chapter 2” may be remembered as one of the greatest action sequels ever made.
This movie is bigger, better and crazier than the first “John Wick.” While the original was structured as a revenge film, this is much more of a western. Sure, there’s no frills, boots or twangs, but does it have the revisionist trope of an antihero forced out of solitude? Check. What about an ensemble of morally ambiguous assassins? Check. Gunfights and standoffs? Check.
“Chapter 2” works because it shows the franchise expanding its world. It also introduces new rules to govern this expansion, forcing Stahelski and his stunt team to think outside the box in their new playground. In turn, this film pushes the envelope of audience expectations, delivering endlessly inventive action without betraying the world it’s building upon.
Not to mention we learn more about Wick’s past and the organization he used to work for. Fortunately, the movie never becomes overly expository like the “Matrix” sequels, where Keanu’s lack of acting range really showed. Here, he continues to do what he’s always done best: stay cool and outsmart everyone around him.
While several supporting actors make a welcome comeback — like Ian McShane (“Deadwood”) and Lance Reddick (“The Wire”) — the new characters make matters even more entertaining.
Ruby Rose (“Orange is the New Black”) plays a mute assassin and exudes equal amounts of menace and sexuality. Peter Serafinowicz, familiar to American audiences as Edgar from “Parks and Recreation,” is hilarious as a Roman weapon supplier. And in a “Matrix” reunion, Laurence Fishburne churns out a larger-than-life performance as a gangster once left at Wick’s mercy.
However, my favorite addition to this franchise is Common, who portrays a bodyguard that’s just as efficient as John Wick, if not better. For anyone who recalls the enjoyable “Run All Night,” Common had an intimidating presence and believably went toe-to-toe against Liam Neeson. Here, Common cranks up the swagger and is more threatening than ever, becoming the perfect nemesis for our mythic hero.
Best of all, “Chapter 2” dishes out the goods and will satisfy action junkies everywhere. Within a two hour running time, there’s enough gunplay, car chases and pugilism to hold viewers’ interests. And whenever the action pauses for some moment of plot, each instance is so brilliantly handled that even the stuffiest film snob will be impressed.
If this movie will get any criticisms, they’re relatively the same as any other action movie, in which the plausibility of each character is a little strained. Although the first one wasn’t exactly Hemingway, most of those fatal situations killed those characters. In this one, we’re asked to believe that characters can survive explosions and stab wounds as if we’re reading a graphic novel.
At the same time, if you pay student prices or full admission for this thing, you know what you’re getting into. Much like the first one, “Chapter 2” knows what it is and doesn’t aspire to be anything else.
Easily a new favorite of mine, “John Wick: Chapter 2” is highly recommended to action fans and dog lovers. It’s a total blast from beginning to end, and continues the February precedent set by “Kingsman” and “Deadpool” for groundbreaking genre films. Treat yourself by seeing it this weekend.
Featured Image: Keanu Reeves stars in Summit Entertainment’s “John Wick: Chapter 2.” Wikimedia Commons