John Wick Chapter 2 is action cinema at its very best

Chapter 2 unveils a little more of everything that made the first great

Three years on after the original murderfest, Chad Stahelski’s John Wick is back to turn up the volume and pile up the bodies. The overhanging threat of action movie sequels is that they will either re-tread the same old ground, remaking old scenes with an inflated budget or they will use that new budget to spend on cars to chase and crash/ explode. There is always a danger of losing the magic of the first film by upping the stakes too much.

The first scene of John Wick 2 features a car chase with several close ups, quick cuts and crane shots. Immediately it seems as if the style of film would be different. The views are fleeting, the camera does all the moving. Maybe the directors misunderstood what was so enjoyable about the first. Maybe studio pressure has created a more homogenised vision. Maybe this won’t be filmed like the original. Then out of nowhere the car chase ends and the next time we visit John in his Mustang the camera hangs about in the front seat, it lingers and lets the action unfold in the best way possible, the way that made John Wick so special. It’s as refreshing as ever with its take on choreography and camera placement.

John Wick introduced the hidden world of assassins, a New York based hotel called The Continental where assassins hold a mutually beneficial armistice, managed by Ian McShane’s delightfully cheesy Winston. The sequel introduces us to the international world of assassins. The filmmakers continue to have as much fun with this concept that they can, clearly, they held back in the first because they throw so much ideas at the screen that it’s hard to keep up. Three scenes are spliced together to what amounts to a frantic shopping montage where John shops for equipment. The scene is brilliantly whimsical and may as well be taking place in Diagon Alley, as Peter Serafinowicz’s Sommelier delicately recommends Mr. Wick new and improved firepower.

In all honesty, the film is an ode to the professional and this scene shows it. It is a film to admire the handicraft of a master tradesman, even if your trade is tailoring suits, engineering guns or shooting people in the head. This second chapter features much more members of John Wick’s professional circle, he is no longer dealing with low down gangsters, he is up against pros. He faces more difficulty in one on one battles and needs to prepare a lot more than before. He certainly gets more lucky in this outing, with a few guards failing to shoot him from feet away. However, the advent of a bulletproof Italian suit makes for highly effective plot armour.

The film does not appear to have lost any of giddiness over choreography and seems to have doubled down on its tongue in cheek attitude, with the sequel containing much more laughs without ever going overboard. The lighting was something that stood out in the first and here they appear to stick to a similar formula, using intense blue and green filters for the majority of the film. It is broken up by scenes of vibrant lighting, culminating in a shoot-out in what is essentially a hall of mirrors.

Once again, however, it is Keanu Reeves who is worthy of the praise, he puts his body on the line through some fantastic choreography and dedicated stunt work all while maintaining John Wick’s sullen equilibrium aided in multiple scenes by the ever intimidating Common and Ruby Rose. Matrix partner Laurence Fishburne makes a reappearance next to Neo and brings a great energy to the film with his booming vocals and heavy duty laugh. After witnessing the upsetting dullness of his performance in Passengers it was a great relief to see him letting loose in a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously.


John Wick Chapter 2 is what the most extreme optimist should have expected from a John Wick sequel. It remains as inescapably driven and hardcore as the last and increases the extremes on every angle, it constantly adds seasoning to its intensely realised world and the direction and style remains as fresh as the first. The film is the action genre at its very best.

John Wick increases his body count from 77 in the first to 128 this time round. That should tell you all you need to know.


John Wick is spectacle cinema in all the right ways


With the release of John Wick Chapter 2 in cinemas I decided to revisit the original 2014 sleeper hit. This is RetroView, where we take a glance back at films that have been out for a while, cult movies, overnight successes or overlooked wonders, John Wick was a surprise hit that came out of nowhere. No one in the world was asking for a Keanu Reeves led action flick with a downright dopey premise. Gangsters kill his dog, John Wick vows to kill them in return. It’s exactly the type of idea that makes disposable box office offal yet John Wick instead is one of the most intensely realised and enjoyable cinematic action spectacles of the decade.

From a narrative perspective, the only aspect of John Wick that is different from your typical action movie is the fact that his revenge is over a puppy rather than a child or spouse. It’s an incredibly efficient shortcut to affectation. Whereas a movie such as Taken wastes a lot of time establishing Maggie Grace’s character and relationship to her father John Wick makes you care about his cause immediately by using a cute puppy.

Each scene of exposition is enjoyable because of the simple fact that it’s nice to watch a puppy. Then when you see this dead innocent animal you want nothing more than payback on the people who did it. Bam! You’re engaged. Director Chad Stahelski “We just thought a puppy was a more manipulative way to shock the audience” and manipulation is exactly what it is. It is not a dirty word, cinema is all about manipulation, and when a movie is a vehicle for Keanu Reeves to gun down 80+ nameless thugs there is no need to bother with subtlety.

Still, the film indulges for a long while in tense build up to the potential of action. For a while there seems to be a little too much hushed words and discussion about how threatening John Wick is while he is not on the screen. In a lesser film this would become tiresome but here it is regularly justified half an hour in when Mr Wick kills his first assailant and the bodies just pile up from then on.

Reeves brings his best work to the table since The Matrix. He does almost all his own stunts, so that the camera can be placed stationary. Allowing the action the freedom to actually be action instead of a shallow manipulation of fast cuts, zooms and disorientation.

The film is a joyful ode to the action movie, it is filled with traditional tropes that are all taken to their logical extreme without becoming excessive. There is a showdown in a lightning storm, a knife fight in sideways rain, a single handed take down of an assault team and silent infiltration of enemy bases. None of the specific ideas of the film are particularly unique but they are all stylised in the most intricate ways and never repeat each other.

The action remains as small scale as possible whilst still constantly escalating. There is a total of three explosions in John Wick and they all happen simultaneously. The film is about John Wick’s fighting ability rather than his preparation or his firepower it finds entertainment in the small, specific moments of skill and quick thinking. The action never becomes boring despite that there is not much else to the film other than John Wick kills people in different ways.

Nyqsit is hamming it up to the extreme as the Russian mob leader Viggo Tarasov. He seems to be the only character in the film that fully grasps how much of a threat John Wick is and tells anyone he can at every opportunity. In fact Viggo seems to come to terms with the fact that he is going to die about half an hour in to the film, leaving his character free to descend into a vicious spiral of self-destruction and free-wheeling euphoria; it is a wonderfully joyful experience.

The film’s lighting department bring their A-game, colouring each scene like a film from Nicolas Winding Refn. Each shot is taken to its contrasting extreme, it is an all senses cinematic. An impressive feat of effort on every front, the film is excessively considered in its approach to creating an aesthetically pleasing experience. Each factor of the film making process has been fine tuned to work as a conduit for the spectacle.

What emerges from this conglomeration of care and attention is a movie that finds joy in every scene; let’s throw John Wick into a mustang, have him drift around a rainy airfield. Why? Because it looks good. Let’s fill this scene with unsourced neon blue light. Why? Because it looks good. Let’s have the NYPD completely absent from the movie. Why? Because it would slow down all the great murders!


John Wick is shameless in all the right ways. It burns with a desire to please the eye and is a refreshing step away from the brooding seriousness of mainstream movies. It is a great example of a film that knows what it is, that pursues a singular goal and shuns gritty realism in exchange for solid entertainment. It’s fast paced, highly focused fun and, above all, entertaining.