John Wick: Chapter 2 doesn’t waste any time, picking up almost immediately where John Wick left off with John (Keanu Reeves) wiping away its few dangling plot threads. Naively believing his hitman days are finally behind him, he finds himself once again thrust back into action when a marker from his past is played by the evil Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio). In the underworld mythology of the Wick series, John has no choice but to oblige D’Antonio for fear of losing what little he has left. Setting off to Rome, John soon discovers that his deal with the devil includes more that what he’s bargained for – a deal that promptly provokes an international community of killers to target Wick!
John Wick: Chapter 2 is far more stylized than its predecessor, with sweeping camera shots and, at times, mind-bending color contrasts. Fully understanding the appeal of the original, Chapter 2 ups the ante with its practical stunts and set pieces delivering some of the most kinetic car chases, shoot-outs, and beat ’em ups in recent memory. All build up to a battle royale in a mirror art showcase that has to be seen to be believed. This sequence alone is worth the price of admission tenfold.
Reeves is once again fully committed to the genuine thrill of the role, performing most of the on-camera action himself. Building up on the mythos of his Boogeyman nickname, we witness a Wick who is more in touch with the game as he reverts back to the legend he inspired (pencil homicide and more), albeit with a fresh set of eyes that reveal to him the futility of what he’s wrought. This character growth if quite impressive, especially in a film galvanized by an almost unyielding drive and pace with a quasi-mute hero. Appropriately enough, he’s paired off against a mute killer, played by Ruby Rose – their silent interactions serving as some of the few comic highlights in the film.
Where Chapter 2 falters, however, is with the heightened implausibility of its narrative and the physical toll on its characters. Where the first film felt suitably gritty and vulnerable with Reeves suffering from his accrued injuries throughout, Chapter 2 takes an almost James Bondian turn going so far as to include its own variation of a Q-branch scene. John Wick, now armed with a bullet proof suit, is an unstoppable one man army. The few injuries he sustains only serve more as an annoyance than an impediment (although compared to Bruce Willis’ superhuman invulnerability in the recent Die Hard sequels, I’ll gladly take what I can get here). Heck, the first film had him fall to the ground grunting in agony after being shot wearing a normal bullet proof vest; Chapter 2‘s fabric thin innovation, which purportedly is supposed to hurt more, can easily be shaken off with a slight wince of pain. The implausibility factor only becomes more ridiculous when Wick is having gunfight showdowns in crowded stations and subway trains that elicit little to no reaction from its surrounding bystanders with nary even a scream or surprised face among them!
The superfluous flash-forwards and flashbacks of the first film are rightfully used more sparingly here, with the exception of one bizarre instance that keeps cutting to the immediate aftermath of an inconsequential fight mid-film. On the plus side, Ian McShane‘s mysterious overseer gets a bit more to do here and Laurence Fishburne‘s short appearance is a welcome, funny reunion with his Matrix costar (even with a subtle wink at their famous discussion of choice).
Yet, for all its faults, John Wick: Chapter 2 earns its ringing endorsements. While the film’s dubious plot and outcomes are weaker than the original, the set pieces are a considerable step-up. For a genre film of its ilk, it’s an important factor that Chapter 2 displays earnestly and effectively. Exhibiting some of the most breathtaking action extravaganzas in recent years, John Wick: Chapter 2 sets an early pedestal for 2017 to beat.