One of the biggest surprises in the action world to come out in the past few years was John Wick. With very little build up, John Wick rose to become one of the definitive action films of the past few years alongside The Raid films. It took the legendary badass status of Keanu Reeves and used it to craft an incredibly detailed world of organised crime, structured around some incredible gun fights, the common joke/drinking game for these scenes focusing on the sheer amount of headshots. Now though, there are expectations for John Wick: Chapter 2, it no longer has the surprise factor of the first one and there were some concerns for me since one of the directors of the first film did not come back to co-direct this one. However, my worries were for nought, John Wick: Chapter 2 is easily better than the first film and continues the strong action pedigree of the first.The film picks up a few days after the events of the first film with John Wick, after avenging the death of his dog and recovering his car, finally trying to settle down and retire. However, Wick cannot do that as Italian crime lord Santino D’Antonio uses Wick’s actions in the first film as justification to cash in a Marker, a blood oath Wick made to Santino, the breaking of which is one of the two rules that you cannot violate in the crime world of this film. After Santino destroys Wick’s house for not honouring the marker, Wick is forced to travel to Rome to complete the task Santino set him, but upon its completion, Santino sends his forces to eliminate Wick, putting a contract on Wick as well to attract other members of the crime world to go after him, whilst the confidante of the person Wick was ordered to kill is on a hunt for revenge, putting Wick up against some of the most skilled assassins in the business. Now it’s not really the plot I want to go into detail about here as much as the world building done in the film. One of the best parts of the first film was the set up for the crime world and here we see it expanded. We see more of the services offered by The Continental, we get hints of the wider crime world with mentions of the High Table, we see different organisations outside of The Continental, both official through the firm that Santino uses to order the contract for Wick, and independent with the new character of the Bowery King and his use of the homeless population of New York and a flock of pigeons to gather information (kind of similar to the homeless network in Sherlock, mixed with Forest Whitaker’s character in Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai). We also see just how vast the network is on the street as anyone could be a member of the underground society, bringing in the possibility for some interesting It Follows style elements for the third film.
In terms of performances, Keanu Reeves continues to show himself as a perfect fit for a character like John Wick. There’s this quiet, seething rage in the character and a stoicism that lets you know that Wick is a threat but a more caring side to him buried underneath, as seen when we find out the reason he wants his car back is for a card from his wife that was inside it. He also shows his skills in the action scenes, aided by great choreography and the stunt team, along with showing how physically exhausting all that fighting is for him. For the other cast members, Ian McShane has a lot of fun as Winston, the manager of the Continental, Ricardo Scamarcio makes for a good villain as Santino, Lance Reddick is as fun to watch as the Concierge here as we was in the first one and in expanding the world we’ve got a fun appearance from Peter Serafinowicz as the Sommelier at the Rome Continental, who provides Wick with his weapons, whilst we get welcome appearances from Peter Stormare as Abram, the brother of Viggo from the first film and Franco Nero as the manager of the Rome Continental. In terms of immediate threats to Wick, Common makes for a good foil to Wick as Cassian, who is trying to enact revenge against Wick, even if his Italian sounds a bit off, whilst Ruby Rose has a great physical presence as Ares, Santino’s mute assassin, which gives her an intimidating air, something especially needed for a mute character in a film like this.
The technical side of the film is where the film really shines though. The action scenes are incredible throughout, making great use of location (a set piece in a hall of mirrors being a standout), props (we finally see why people are so afraid when Wick has a pencil), sound (the highlight being a scene in a subway when Wick and Cassian are shooting at each other with silenced pistols so no-one else notices) and choreography. The fights in this film are brutal, highlighting the skill of each combatant and the unique fighting styles that they possess. Aside from the action scenes, the production design for all the elements of the Continental is excellent, even going down to the little things like the designs of the coins, the stylised subtitles make a welcome return from the first film, adding to the overall tone of the film and the cinematography has this great 80s-esque style that gives the film a great throwback feel.
Overall, John Wick: Chapter 2 is a more than worthy follow up to the first film. This is easily one of the best pure action films to come along in a long time, with the strong worldbuilding done in the film keeping you intrigued even when the action stops. The performances, especially that of Keanu Reeves, add to the overall environment and tone of the film, helping to create a great world and strong set-up for a third film in the series, one which I now cannot wait for.
My Rating: 5/5