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.