The first John Wick movie was about a retired hitman for a mob-like society losing his wife and then having his car stolen and his puppy killed. John Wick: Chapter 2 is about him getting his car back, coming out of retirement and keeping his new puppy safe. It’s better! Everything is better, and there’s so much ass-beating along the way.
Both John Wick movies are nothing fancy. Some may say they’re some of those movies of the type that “knows what it is,” but I don’t like that expression because that suggests that all of the hard working people involved thought they were second-rate for some reason. And there’s nothing second-rate about John Wick: Chapter 2's action, which puts almost anything else out right now to shame.
That’s not to say that these movies don’t play to their genre and to a specific, heavy-R rated audience that likes to go see cool people say cool things and do cool stunts—John Wick: Chapter 2 definitely checks all of these boxes.
The first John Wick was notable because it was playful. An assassin’s wife dies of unknown causes, pushing aside what would be an obvious motivation by not just having her killed or whatever. But then they go and have the puppy his dying wife got him killed instead. Would it have made a difference? I mean, probably. The only reason I watched John Wick was because I heard it was a kickass action movie about a guy who avenges a dog, and I can get behind that.
Its sequel takes the kickass action movie part and fleshes it out to a global scale, building this interesting world of a secret society of assassins that have all heard just how bad ass John Wick is. The first fifteen or so minutes are solely focused on Wick killing people in a Chevelle SS in order to get his 1969 Mustang Mach 1 from the first movie back, as one does, and then he kills more people in that. As one does.
You can definitely tell they got a bigger budget after the cult success of the first movie, but they didn’t throw it all into some overblown plot inflated with too many actors or crazy story ideas, or any heavily computer-generated sequences, which is the route these “B-movie” type sequels usually go for.
The only truly apparent example of a ballooned budget is the absolutely amazing set design that makes the first movie almost look like a student project. Great set design is often confused as great cinematography, but there are key differences. Cinematography is where the camera is pointed. Set design is what the camera is pointing at. John Wick: Chapter 2 has two sequences where the sets blew me away; an extended gunfight in the halls of the Roman catacombs in the middle of some kind of rave, and another extended gunfight through a museum and into a trippy hall of neon lights and rotating mirrors. The film sets are an absolutely gorgeous backdrop for John Wick to kick ass through.
And that’s not to discredit the cinematography, either. What made the first film so popular was the astonishing hand-to-hand stuntwork and the clear and focused gunfights. You have to give props to director Chad Stahelski, who was the stunt double for Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, for such an uncommonly clear action movie. Luckily he returns for Chapter 2, where the camera flows with the action in long takes, instead of cutting back and forth, as if the camera operators rehearsed the fights just as vigorously as the people acting them out. The action breathes, taking care to avoid tiring the audience out with too much too quick, while managing to stretch it out for some incredibly long sequences.
Chapter 2 is masterful in keeping its focus on the action, mostly because there’s not much else going for it. Keanu Reeves as John Wick is a very cold, relatively lifeless character, as Keanu Reeves characters tend to be. He goes through both John Wick movies reading every single line like his “I know Kung Fu” from The Matrix. The good thing is he doesn’t speak very much. The bad guy acting in better this time around, though. Oh, and Common throws down with Wick a few times, speaks Italian and drinks gin. My friends laughed at him and said he had gone weak.
There are many moments where I could tell Chapter 2 was trying to make me laugh, or at least smirk, and it was pretty much hit or miss. Then there were moments where I was laughing at it, unsure if that was the intended effect. But that’s exactly what this kind of movie this is, and why it’s such a good time. Something a bunch of friends watch, where everyone freaks out when Wick takes a knife through some guys groin, or laughs at how ridiculous it is to see him shoot a guy point-blank in the face with his legs wrapped around his neck for the 200th time.
But that’s how these movies go. The John Wick series isn’t very far from any other action movie vehicle relying on a washed-up action star from days gone by for some sort of name recognition. Think Stallone, Willis, Van Damme, and now add Keanu Reeves. John Wick: Chapter 2 is better because Keanu Reeves can still convincingly kick ass, and it has a director that can not only make it look easy, but also very pretty and fun.
It’s the perfect movie to have on in the background on a lazy Saturday. Would I pick this movie for a plane ride or a road trip? Definitely. Do I want a John Wick: Chapter 3? Can’t fucking wait.