Like many, I missed the original John Wick in theaters, due in part to weak marketing and it looking like your typical action movie, at least from the outside. And, while not without its problems, the original quickly became a sleeper hit among fans thanks to its emphasis on style, well choreographed action sequences, and being a great throwback to 80’s action films from before. Chapter 2 tries to expand and improve on the originals strengths, with more bloodshed and secret assassin material throughout, but results in the film taking a radically different tone than its predecessor. Its an equally fun movie as the original, but may suffer from a lack of excess overall.
What little story exists in Chapter 2 is your standard fare, relying on the standard tropes of our hero being pulled in for one last job, betrayed after the job is finished, and going after the person who betrayed him. The first film wasn’t a behemoth in the plot department either, but it hid its lack of story well enough thanks to introducing this new world of secret assassins and finding ways to logically interweave them into our own reality, adding a sense of logic to the film. The sequel never even attempts to keep this up, with hitmen and assassins on every street corner, expert craftsmen who can make suits that allow characters to get shot dozens of times and not be hurt, and the common occurrence of very public shootouts somehow going unnoticed by the public. This never hurts the film, but it does diminish the stakes; where the first film was grounded and treated John like a normal man, Chapter 2 makes john out to be this terminator-like badass, never once making the audience worry if he’ll make it out of this alive.
Adding to this over-the-top feeling are the performances. While Keanu Reeves still does well with the quiet-badass, says-little approach to John, it often feels that he is in a different film from the other actors, taking the material perhaps too seriously. Meanwhile, everyone else tends to go overboard chewing up the scenery, with every scene with Ian McShane leading to an extravagant speech, and newcomer Lawrence Fishburne delivering an enjoyably hammy performance throughout. What’s fascinating about this is that none of these performances are necessarily bad, most often being at least enjoyable; the problem is that they don’t come together naturally. This division in tone creates a film that at times feels at odds with itself, trying to both adhere to the gritty style of the first film, and the more extravagant nature of the sequel itself, and never completely meets in the middle.
But, in all honesty, story and acting aren’t what the original was remembered for, and it’s absolutely not what the sequel strives to excel in. Chapter 2’s focus is exclusively on its action, and its clear that every dollar has been put on screen. The cinematography and choreography on display are at the top of their class, delivering a better looking, more intense action film then what we see even in most summer blockbusters. Gunfights are brutal, and hand-to-hand sequences are filmed well enough that you can see every punch and kick perfectly. Unlike the first film, there’s also a greater variety of action sequences, from car chases, to shoot outs, and a particularly well done knife fight in a subway car. The finale’s set piece of a gunfight in a mirror-filled art installation will likely invite comparisons to the iconic finale of Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, but enough attention to detail and stylized camerawork has been added on to avoid feelings to direct copying. With the exception of a cavern shoot out that’s too dark at times to fully appreciate, the action on display is among the best in recent memory, creating a new benchmark to compare future films of the genre.
It’s hard to say anymore about John Wick: Chapter 2, partly due to avoiding spoilers, but mostly because it’s not a film you can really talk about. Rather, this is a visceral action movie that is the best at what it does, but not much else. After a few days, you’re likely to forget completely about what actually happened in the films plot, but the action and filmmaking on display make it hard to care. It’s an extremely focused film, electing to do what it’s best at very well, while not putting much time or effort into other parts. Some may be turned off by this different approach, but Chapter 2 will likely remain a thoroughly enjoyable action film to most.