John Wick: Chapter Two is the sequel to new-classic action movie John Wick, and is directed by stuntman Chad Stahelski. It stars Keanu Reeves as John Wick, a retired expert assassin who is reluctantly drawn back into the sleek and classy underworld of crime when an old friend calls in a favor. However, John is double crossed and a bounty is placed on his head, a bounty both friend and foe wish to collect on. Now John will be pushed to his limits, battling against fellow assassins on a quest for revenge in a film that is the same as the original in all the best ways.
John Wick Two is John Wick One but with more of a plot. That is literally the only way to describe this film. It’s just Keanu Reeves murdering endless waves of goons to get to a crime boss who slighted him. And while a sequel being the same as the original sounds like it could be a major problem, it works here for the same reason the original John Wick worked. It’s a movie that knows what it is. What I mean is that John Wick 2, like the original, adheres to a certain type of tone and style and masters it, never trying for a tone outside its comfort zone. The John Wick franchize follows a strict formula of fast paced and masterful fight choreography, a sleek high class grace and style, and a cold, hardened hero with just enough emotion to give the plot some meaning. It’s more of the same, but the series mastered its formula in the first place so the audience welcomes more of it.
And of course, like any good sequel, it ups the ante from the previous film and changes some stuff, but never to much, never reaching outside the tone the series has chosen for itself. For example, if they gave John Wick a love interest, then the film would be going far outside the emotional restraint the series is known for, and it would have felt weird and probably wouldn’t have worked. John Wick 2 is a good format for any great sequel keeping close to the tonal and stylistic boundaries of the previous film while growing and changing within within those boundaries.
What changed the most between the films is that John Wick is now the main character, meaning that he is the explicit main physical and emotional focus of the movie. In John Wick One, while he was given an emotional backstory and motivation, it never really became the focus of the film until the very end. He was more of a silent James Bond of murder, mowing down enemies like cutting grass, speaking less lines than the villains and the side characters. The first film was a violent spectacle made to entertain with an emotional undertone to tie it together. In John Wick Two, it is a different story. While John is still emotionally restrained and has less lines than most anyone else, there is an emotional undertone throughout the entire film that makes John feel more like a human and a character rather than a force of nature. John just wants to escape the bloody world of crime lords and live a calm and normal life, but he is constantly sucked back into the line of duty.
He is constantly forced back into his role of a cold assassin, despite the fact that he just wants peace in his life. The worst part is: he can’t escape, he can’t become a man of peace, because he is at heart a remorseless killer (there is a reason that when he fights, he kills those he incapacitates despite the fact they pose no threat). At heart he is a cold, angry murderer who will never find peace in the world of crime or the normal world. This in-depth elaboration on the character of John Wick gives this film a lot more emotional gravity and humanity than the previous film and makes it a much more engrossing watch. It’s pretty impressive, considering the fact that even though Keanu Reeves is probably a emotionless robot in real life, whenever the movie needs him to pull of a real emotion, he delivers it in a semi-awkward yet semi-convincing manner. Kudos to the casting of this series for knowing to cast an emotionless silent automaton of an actor as an emotionless silent automaton of a character, so any wooden line delivery or awkwardness can be written off as part of John Wick’s personality. Really it is perfect casting.
Director Chad Stahelski continues to show his true colors as a stuntman, as the fight choreography in this series continues to be top-notch. However, while John Wick continues to gun down men as gracefully as if he was dancing, the gun play has become a tad stale, consisting of John endlessly flipping guys over or rolling around on the ground to shoot people from behind the meat shield. A lot of the same moves are used in this film, and while they might have been novel in the previous instalment, they have lost some of their charm. Luckily, there is a much higher use of hand to hand combat and knife play in this film, which spices up the fighting immensely, and whenever used becomes the best part of the movie.
The only real grievance I have with the film is the inclusion of Laurence Fishburne’s character (who is a hobo-crimelord person, it’s very confusing). Somewhere between the second and third act, John Wick comes to Fishburne’s character for help, and the plot just stops dead in its tracks and the audience is held captive with this guy for about ten minutes while he acts like a living cartoon. Then John is released back into the plot and we never see Fishburne again until a montage at the end of the film. It is by far the worst part of the film, not because Fishburne overacts to the point where I was embarrassed for him, not because the entire section of the movie contributes nothing and is a waste of time, but because the movie had the audacity to halt the entire flow of the movie for the sake of fanservice. Just because Keanu and Fishburne were in the Matrix together, the movie feels the need to stop everything to point this out to us, wasting time that could be spent actually entertaining the audience. As a general rule of thumb for screenwriting, fan service always takes a back seat to the narrative flow and cohesion of a movie, especially if that fan service is for an entirely different and unrelated franchize. Despite the momentary plot abyss the film stumbles into, John Wick Two is a great movie, continuing the tradition of amazing fight choreography and stylism from the first film while surpassing it in its emotional intensity and humanization of the main character. It is a fun and skilful sequel, and I wait in anticipation for the third chapter of the story. I give John Wick Two an A-.
By Sam Finbury