Keavu Reeves and half of the directing team of the original return for more kung-fu-gunplay-Western-hybrid-action in John Wick Chapter 2. Lee reviews.
John Wick Chapter 2 makes a somewhat rebellious choice against the grain, contradicting a generally accepted fact: audiences don’t necessarily demand change or progress from action movie sequels. Not that diminishing returns don’t creep in at some point, but it’s very easy to ride the reputation of one solid action film for a few phoned-in sequels and package the lot as a generally well-received box-set for mass consumption. Film crews get work, bored consumers get a trip to the cinema, couples get their action fix on their Sofa Saturdays; the only losers are those who see the potential to play with the storytelling form at every possible opportunity and have something akin to a minor stroke when that potential is missed (critics).
But on our return to the story of John Wick, despite a clever (if mundane) opening that paints a picture of ‘business as usual’, audiences might soon be shocked to find the story goes somewhere else; it progresses. No longer a simple caper without consequence, à la Golden Age Bond, John Wick Chapter 2 actually has two goals for its narrative: to firmly root us in how the world of crime and The Continental works and to progress John Wick’s place within it. Met with a third goal outside narrative, to continue creating sleek, stunt-heavy action movies, John Wick Chapter 2 makes for fairly ambitious fare that doesn’t take the good faith it earned with its ambitious predecessor for granted.
We do get some standards of action sequels, i.e. retreads of what worked before. Another rave murder spree, some great locations for hitman work and lots of hands on, gritty, teeth-clenching tackles, punches and dives to brace for; not to mention the goofy stylised subtitles that ham up the dialogue. But the film makes good use of the rules laid down in the original, and explores them in interesting ways, like how the contract system becomes upended when open contracts are introduced, or how the film makes use of the goofy subtitles by introducing a mute character.
Characterisation also has its moments. While Wick himself remains generally consistent with his previous incarnation, there is an added air of impatience teased that prompts just enough questions to care for the well-being of this Superman stand-in. Supporting cast get a far more rounded part this time around; a charismatic villain with a clear and understandable goal, a badass sister we don’t get nearly enough time with, her lover with just the right level of investment to care, aforementioned mute assassin, various NPCs including Gutter Morpheus; everybody gets a moment to shine and a role to fill.
Action is, as expected, excellent with long camera holds keeping the scenes connected and fluid. Set-pieces are incredibly creative, keeping the constant barrage of gunfights feeling fresh by throwing new elements into the chemistry set just to see the result. While the first film took us on a tour of the neon-lit seedy side of New York, John Wick Chapter 2 takes the logical leap in making the adventure a little more international and upstate with shoot-outs in everything from ruins to town squares and art exhibitions. The neon’s there, but it matures into the finery of the higher class and the higher stakes that come with them.
Slights are few, mercifully. At just over two hours, the runtime’s a little long, and while nothing feels wholly unnecessary there’s a significant stop-start once Laurence Fishburne’s character is introduced in the gap between acts two and three. Sometimes action in its sheer multitude feels repetitive, which works with the exhaustion of the character but doesn’t change the fact that this is the third room we’ve walked into, ducked behind something and shot everyone in sight in a minute and a half. And while it is a different breed of the John Wick format, there is something to be said about this type of action benefitting the singular, hour-and-a-half form.
Still, as an experiment in form, as a sequel that ups the ante, and as just a solid action movie with things we all like to see in action movies, John Wick Chapter 2 absolutely prevails. It might be a different flavour of John Wick, and that might lose some purists, but for those interested in seeing this established style get weird it’s a must.