“John Wick: Chapter 2” is an espresso shot of a movie, an action epic which ramps up its predecessor’s brutal fight scenes without any excess fat.
Some of the most interesting elements of the first “John Wick” was the mystery surrounding The Continental Hotel, a secret society of assassins. The sequel dives headfirst into its mythology to wonderful effect, filled wall-to-wall with brutal, fun and sometimes humorous action.
The film opens on John Wick (Keanu Reeves) during one of his trademark murderous rampages. In this opening scene, as Wick clashes with a veritable army of Russian henchmen during a vicious vehicular battle, director Chad Stahelski’s gory creativity runs wild. It immediately electrifies the audience while also giving a taste for what will follow.
From the opening onward, Stahelski’s high-octane directing style is turned up to 11 for the film’s entire duration and never drops down a notch. Flying solo without “John Wick” co-director David Leitch, Stahelski’s singular vision propels the movie into cinematic-action bliss.
After once again attempting retirement to give himself time to grieve the death of his wife, Wick is drawn back into the society of assassins when an old acquaintance, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), claims his “mark,” a plot contrivance which requires Wick to assassinate any target for D’Antonio. The two clearly have a murky past, but Wick agrees to follow through with his duty and the story truly begins to unfold.
Wick’s journey takes him to Rome, and its location of The Continental Hotel. Each glimpse of Stahelski’s world gives more information without taking away from its mystery, and instead piques the viewer’s curiosity. One of these glimpses features the Roman Continental’s “Sommelier” (Peter Serafinowicz) who doesn’t specialize with wine, but weapons. In one of the film’s funniest scenes, Serafinowicz and Reeves play perfectly off one another, using extended wine metaphors to refer to preparation for a night of combat.
The rest of the film is a globe-hopping journey which has Wick facing off against a brutal Common—yes, the rapper, startlingly intimidating here—as well as a mute yet equally imposing Ruby Rose. In a particularly stunning sequence toward the end, Wick takes down wave upon wave of assassins in a mirror house, using reflections and illusions to kill a vast amount of enemies. The body count in “John Wick” tops off around 80, and “John Wick: Chapter 2” at least doubles it, easily reaching 80 in headshots alone.
Make no mistake, this is a ferocious bloody film, but Reeves’ and Stahelski’s awareness about its inherent impracticality makes it work. The movie features a glimpse of a silent film from one of the original geniuses of physical comedy, Buster Keaton, and his influence is obvious here. The most entertaining bits of Keaton’s films involve miraculously overcoming a seemingly insurmountable problem, and Stahelski adopts Keaton’s signature humorous flair to fit a violent action film.
The most interesting action in both “John Wick” films comes from the moments when the titular hero runs out of bullets, and the many ways he is forced to compensate, including punching someone in the throat to buy him time, spearing an enemy with the barrel of his rifle and simply throwing the gun at his assailants. These films do not aim to shock or surprise their audience, but entertain, and on that front, Stahelski and Reeves perfectly stick the landing.
Runtime: 122 minutes
Score: 4.5/5 stars