How do you win a car chase? Well, as any action movie fan would tell you, you typically go around the block to cut them off. It’s an action cliché as old as celluloid, and when John Wick: Chapter 2 began with it, I started to worry. Would the surprising energy and ingenuity of the first movie be lost, replaced by run-of-the-mill action set pieces? Had John Wick become yet another cog in the Hollywood blockbuster machine?
Somewhere between Keanu Reeves sacrificing his driver side door to clothesline a motorcycle and Keanu Reeves exiting his now-unprotected driver side door when a collision knocked the entire car out from underneath him, I remembered. Oh, right. This is John Wick. This is definitely still John Wick.
Back in 2014, Keanu Reeves had found the perfect comeback vehicle: a movie where his character literally came back, and got to say in a cool, menacing voice, “Yeah. I’m thinking I’m back.” The phrase was all over John Wick’s marketing, a meta-declaration of the return of the king.
The film surprised almost everyone with its inventive action choreography, charmingly straightforward revenge plot, and its introduction of a new cinematic icon: John Wick, the Boogeyman, the un-killable assassin with a penchant for puppies and headshots.
John Wick: Chapter 2, released this weekend, is every bit as thrilling and fun as the original. This can most likely be credited to the continuity of talent: the original film’s co-director, Chad Stahelski, and writer, Derek Kolstad, both returned for the sequel.
Many have lauded the intricate and creative ways that Stahelski, an ex-stuntman himself, has come up with for John Wick to kill people. Cars, knives, writing utensils, big guns, little guns: the real question is, what implement hasn’t John Wick used to kill someone?
But the secret sauce of the John Wick series is its supporting cast. The first film, even as an undeniable star vehicle for Reeves, also featured Ian McShane, Alfie Allen, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe, Michael Nyqvist, Lance Reddick, Clarke Peters and Adrianne Palicki.
McShane, Leguizamo, and Reddick all return for the sequel, along with another impressive crop of supporters: Common, Ruby Rose, Laurence Fishburne, Peter Serafinowicz and Peter Stormare all join in.
The story is messier this time around, rehashing some of the first movie’s emotional beats without adding much substance. The original film’s mission felt both righteous and self-contained, and the sequel gives us a little less of both. But, it pretty much goes without saying, the John Wick series shouldn’t be your go-to for a twisty, moving thriller in the first place. It gets its kicks in other ways.
One way: its sense of humor. This is far from an action-comedy, but that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of laughs. The movie gets its jokes mostly from a sort of self-aware exaggeration of the goings on: Peter Stormare’s tough, tattooed Russian gangster quivers in his boots, recalling the time the Boogeyman killed two people with only a pencil. One scene in particular, involving silencers, was worth the price of admission alone, and is too funny to reveal here.
The aesthetic of John Wick: Chapter 2 is fascinating as well. For one example: it continues the first movie’s trend of using dramatic, stylized subtitles when people are speaking in another language (or in this movie’s case, when Ruby Rose’s mute assassin character is using sign-language).
The movie’s cinematography is well worth mentioning, too. John Wick: Chapter 2 is another addition to a growing group of gorgeously shot and vibrantly lit action movies. Recent James Bond entries come to mind, most notably Roger Deakins’ work on Skyfall, but the first John Wick did impressive things with its cinematography as well. Chapter 2, shot by recent Guillermo del Toro collaborator Dan Laustsen, is even prettier to look at than the original. The finale sequence in particular is truly stunning.
And, of course, the action is incredible. There are way too many highlights to share here. A knock-down, drag-out fight between Keanu Reeves and Common is (very literally) breathtaking, calling to mind the Keith David–Roddy Piper fight from They Live. The signature John Wick killing style, part-wrestling and part-laser handgun accuracy, is always thrilling. And the movie never runs out of interesting new settings for the fights to take place.
As it turned out, any fears about John Wick: Chapter 2 not living up to its expectations were unfounded. It’s just as fresh and surprising as its predecessor, a welcome punch to the gut of the movie world. Keanu Reeves is, as ever, action movie royalty, and he reminds us why in this film. It’s a must-see if you’re even a casual fan of the genre.
The future of John Wick is bright, too. According to Slashfilm, there’s already talk of both a John Wick 3 and of a potential prequel TV series with Lionsgate. It’s a hot property, and as long as Stahelski, Kolstad and Reeves are all on board, it seems like John Wick can do no wrong. So go see this movie, lest you be on John Wick’s bad side the next time he comes cartwheeling through a room, shooting everyone between the eyes.