I have a weird theory: I think Keanu Reeves intentionally picks one huge franchise to be in every decade. First, there was his role of Ted “Theodore” Logan from the Bill and Ted films in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Then Keanu played Neo from the Matrix Trilogy from 1999 to 2004. Now, he’s got a new franchise on his hand with John Wick. Man, the guy sure can pick them, huh?
Yes, it definitely looks like John Wick will be another iconic character that Keanu Reeves brought back to life. At least, that’s the plan. It all depends if John Wick: Chapter 2 is good enough to make a third entry. So, let’s go see if the sequel to 2014’s surprise neo-noir film actually deserved to become a trilogy?
By the way, this will be a SPOILER FREE review of John Wick: Chapter 2. It only makes sense to do it this way. Don’t wanna get killed by the Spoiler assassins.
John Wick: Chapter 2 takes place right after the events of the first film. After going through hell and back to avenge his dog and his car (no, really). John Wick returns home to try to return to normal life. Unfortunately, word has gotten out that the highly skilled hitman had just gone on a killing spree. A former associate forces John Wick to do one more job and The Boogeyman is unable to refuse because of a blood oath. This starts a chain of events that will have John facing off against other killers out to get him.
I guess the biggest question is if Chapter 2 is at least as good as the first movie. I’m happy to say it is. However, it does falter in some key aspects that made the first John Wick good but improves upon the formula in other places. In the end, it all balances out to make John Wick: Chapter 2 incredibly entertaining to the same degree the first movie was.
The first film actually drops you in the middle of the story and, as such, the secret world of assassins is revealed to us in bits and pieces. We never really got to see this hidden world in all its glory but, in Chapter 2, we get to see a whole lot on how they operate. It shows that this shadowy world is much bigger than you think as there are networks upon networks here, weaving a complex web of connections between them. It never gets too complicated that we need a deep explanation on how things work, though. This is both a plus and a minus in my opinion. It’s a really cool and stylized world and definitely works with the tone of the film but, at the same time, because they show us a lot of the aspects on how their world works, it does slow down the frentic pace the first John Wick had.
The action is overall very solid as well. When John Wick starts shooting, things look damn exciting. You gotta love how, although he is a legendary killer, John Wick isn’t perfect. He does get hurt and get hit from time to time but he doesn’t get hurt too much that it slows down the action. It makes him look badass with just a hint of vulnerability to make him still seem human. You know, like Batman. But with guns!
There’s an extra bonus for action fans in John Wick: Chapter 2. That would be the homages to older, classic action movie tropes that has become a lost art in today’s films. I’m talking about the standoffs, pure stuntwork without CG and, of course, glorious and bloody violence. When John Wick starts shooting, the blood will start spraying! It’s never too gory that it becomes unrealistic but it’s bloody enough to get a rise out of you. It’s actually kind of refreshing to see some gore nowadays.
There are actually a lot more scenes where John Wick foregoes the firepower and decides to take on his foes in hand-to-hand combat than the first. While these mano-a-mano scenes are truly memorable (keep an eye out for the one with the pencil), there were times where they seemed to use a pseudo shaky cam. It isn’t super jittery but they just zoom in really close to the punches and the kicks at times and, since they’re tracking the flying fists and feet, they don’t look that clean. It’s nothing terrible and you do get used to it, though.
The acting is, well, cheesy. But its a fun kind of cheesy. Everyone is suitably over the top, making them incredibly identifiable and memorable. Definitely more memorable that the first one, in fact. The first John Wick had pretty forgettable bad guys as all they were Russian mobsters. Here, they throw in various hitmen and assassins of different races and sizes with their own quirks and gimmicks. Guess that means this film supports equal rights!
Keanu Reeves is just a phenomenal John Wick. It’s hard to really put my finger on why he seems perfect for the role of an almost mythical assassin who just wants to get out. Maybe because he just looks unassuming enough that it’s a surprise that he’s a highly skilled killer. Maybe it’s because of how stoic and laser focused he makes John Wick seem. Maybe because he can deliver some incredibly silly and cheesy lines with such conviction it just sounds cool. Maybe it’s all of that and more. Point being, Keanu Reeves is John Wick.
The rest of the supporting cast, save for a couple of them, pull off their roles aplomb that it’s hard not to like them. Iam McShane’s Winston (AKA the manager of the New York Continental hotel) pulls off a kind of gravitas that, even though he seems weak, there’s a power that he holds that means you can’t mess with him. Lance Reddick’s Charon (AKA the receptionist of the hotel) is so gentlemanly and classy. Heck, I’ll even go and say that Laurence Fishburn’s over the top portrayal of one of the underworld’s leaders as fun to watch.
Unfortunately, the weakest link with the acting in John Wick: Chapter 2 are the main antagonists, namely Riccardo Scamarcio (ie. the main baddie) and Ruby Rose (ie. the main henchwoman). To be fair, Riccardo Scamarcio’s Santino D’Antonio is perfectly functional. The trouble is that he never feels menacing enough. You’re never scared of him nor do you think of him as a threat to John Wick. I actually have more trouble with Ruby Rose’s character. Not only do you feel that she’s non-threatening, she also doesn’t really do all that much. She also just has the same look on her face throughout the entire film. That weird smug “I’m a tough fighter, too” look that’s incredibly unconvincing, by the way.
Another weak spot would have to be the plot of the film. Specifically, I have an issue with John Wick’s reason for returning to action. In the first movie, it sounds silly and very simplistic on the surface yet you can relate to it easily. It was… a pure motivation. In Chapter 2, John Wick has no real drive or reason save for his blood oath. Thus, the emotional connection you have with John Wick isn’t that strong as with the first film. It hurts the movie a bit but not too much that the entire film suffers.
Even with the weak villains and really flimsy motivation behind the main character’s actions, John Wick: Chapter 2 is a fun and violent movie that action fans will definitely want to see. Like the first film, it’s a throwback to the glorious days of yesteryear where the action takes the forefront and the overall plot is like a second thought. It never tries to be too smart but is clever enough to give us a world that just works well with the film’s rather cheesy tone. Go see it.
Have you seen John Wick: Chapter 2? What do you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!