Keanu Reeves was all but forgotten when John Wick barreled onto the scene in 2014, having been relegated to the likes of 2011’s Henry’s Crime and 2013’s Man of Tai Chi, which together made $200,000 (that’s thousand dollars) at the box office. But John Wick proved to be a bit of a renaissance for Reeves, showing he still had some gas in the tank, provided he had a decent script and a capable director.
Original writer Derek Kolstad, director Chad Stahelski, and Reeves are back at it again for John Wick: Chapter 2, and not only does it pick up where the first left off (cinematically as well as contextually), it actually improves on the formula and reminds us that while Reeves may not be a dramatic, nuanced thespian he has the charisma and chops to carry a movie… and, more importantly, that “sequel” isn’t necessarily a bad word.
Having dispatched of New York gang kingpin Viggo Tarasov and his weasley son Iosef in the first film, Wick is still desperate to put his hitman life in the rearview mirror as Chapter 2 begins. First, though, he needs to wrap up one last loose end and get his beloved ‘69 Mustang Cobra back from Viggo’s brother Abram (Peter Stormare). The expertly choreographed prologue sets the tone within the first few seconds, as Wick careens through the streets of New York City and eventually dispatches with a dozen toughs in the garage where the car is being kept. Equal measures of body slams (for Wick’s enemies) and belly laughs (for the audience) remind us that the John Wick production team may take their fisticuffs seriously, but they can also keep their collective tongues firmly in their cheek.
After getting his car back, Wick retreats to his house in the hills, but his peace doesn’t last long. Italian crime boss Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) comes calling to collect on the marker he holds after he helped Wick retire from the criminal world. D’Antonio wants his sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini) dead, so he can take her seat at the criminal world’s “High Table”, and he wants Wick to do the job. And since the criminal world (at least in the John Wick universe) adheres to a strict set of gentlemanly rules, Wick has no choice but to get return to his hitman ways.
Kolstad’s script may adhere to a tried and true formula (bulletproof anti-hero gets sucked back in for one last job), but how he goes about it is both smart and refreshing. The only thing we know for sure is that Wick will survive the day (Stahelski has already announced a third and final installment is in the works), but beyond that, anything goes… and it often does. Kolstad made sure to expand on the story and not just regurgitate the same plot, and not only does Chapter 2 answer some of the questions that arose in the first film, it also has plenty of fun doing it. Recurring characters and situations will bring a big smile to fans of the original film, and new tidbits (the Pope joke is a perfect example) help elevate the sequel even further.
The cast, too, never seems to be mailing it in, instead playing every scene with a wink and a nod. From returning faces like John Leguizamo and Ian McShane to new additions like Common and Ruby Rose, they all know exactly what kind of film they’re making and have a ball doing it. Further kudos to Stahelski, who served as the stunt coordinator in the Matrix trilogy, for bringing Laurence Fishburne and Reeves back together. Brilliant.
From start to finish, Chapter Two is a win, taking seriously only what it needs to (including the fight choreography and Dan Laustsen’s gorgeous cinematography) and having fun with everything else. And it certainly knows how to set up what promises to be one heck of a finale…to one of the most surprisingly worthwhile franchises in recent years.