John Wick: Chapter 2 Review
Tell them. Tell whoever they send. Whoever they are. I'm gonna kill them. I'm going to kill them all.
Expanding its world-building globally, John Wick: Chapter 2 delivers precision close-quarters chaos in an assured franchise-in-the-making fashion.2014's John Wick was something of an unexpected sleeper hit, made for a paltry $20 million budget, it provided something that moviegoers had been missing in their diet for quite some time - unabashed, unapologetic pure action for adults. With nothing watered down or held back, it was an adrenaline shot to the heart; a violent revenge-fuelled ride through the criminal underworld with Keanu Reeves' tough-as-nails protagonist blasting his way through a swathe of adversaries, having awoken from a life of peace through the rude interruption of a group of vicious Eastern European underlings who had no idea of the monster they were disturbing.Beyond the pure, simplistic action, which was effortlessly captured through the skill of many of the fight coordinators and stunt workers that collaborated with Reeves on his Matrix series, there was an immense amount of graphic novel-esque world-building going on, with the first film dipping into a whole realm of underground assassins and criminal codes of conduct. Co-director Chad Stahelski returns to helm this epic sequel, which delivers not only bigger action beats but also an expanded look at the universe hinted at in the first encounter. There's no doubt that fans of the first chapter will get exactly what they paid for with this tremendous follow-up.
Even in its opening sequence, John Wick: Chapter 2 defies genre (and Hollywood) expectations, with the first action beats delivering the kind of follow-up story that lazier sequels would have used to fuel an entire movie. There's something overtly knowing about the whole "I want my car back" theme, and this brief action-filled foray sets just the right tone for a movie which is going to go way beyond what you could have ever imagined.
Determined to be retired for good, of course John Wick gets drawn back into the underworld of assassins, as a marker is called in and his services are called upon once again. With no choice, Wick's last mission, unsurprisingly, turns into a bloodbath, and he's left being hunted down by just about every assassin on the planet. Calling upon the services of the secret cabal of assassins and the internationally based Continental hotels, Wick blasts his way through hell in a desperate attempt to draw a line under this part of his life, and finally walk away from it all. But is it too late for that?
Fans of the first will find all their dreams have come true with this sequel
It's tremendous to see Reeves back as Wick, the character who most teenagers will probably better know him for than even Neo, and his cinematic skills with firearms are staggeringly impressive, as he cycles through assault rifles, shotguns and pistols with ease, shooting and reloading as if it was pure muscle memory, and confronting his opponents head-on, no matter how many there are. His ground-fighting is just as impressive, and he cuts a swathe through a variety of tough enemies, headlined by other lead assassins played by the likes of Common and Orange is the new Black's Ruby Rose. The stunts continue to astound too - as cars swipe him, and he gets kicked, stabbed and blasted across the screen. Indeed the action choreography remains not only impressive but arguably amidst the best ever committed to film, and it's a tribute to his commitment that Reeves is front and centre throughout.
Many familiar faces return with slightly more meat this time around, as the supporting cast embraces its intriguing, expertly-layered comic-book-esque universe. Ian McShane's runner of the New York Continental comes to the fore (and the original Django, Franco Nero, gets a great cameo as McShane's Rome counterpart), and Laurence Fishburne comes out of the shadows as an eccentric leader of the New York underground, whilst we get to see more from John Leguizamo's mechanic and Lance Reddick's hotel concierge. The villain is a little underwhelming, but arguably needs to be so in order to justify the plot developments, and it almost does not matter as the movie is often more about the sheer force of nature that is John Wick, with those who oppose him merely symbolising the lengths that he will go to do get the job done, whether its business or personal.
With twice the budget and a two-hour runtime to play with, the filmmakers have a lot more toys to unleash, and, as a result, there is a slightly less fluid feeling to the proceedings - the first chapter had a very efficient narrative, and didn't waste a single shot. Chapter 2 brings more to the table, and, as a result, doesn't always feel as direct in its approach. That's not to say that it ever lets up in the action stakes, or leaves you time to breathe let alone check your watch (come the last half hour, you'll be exhausted, but still won't want it to end), but Chapter 2 is not quite the perfectly-designed apex predator that the first one was, sacrificing a little of that lean efficiency in favour of its more expanded look at the universe which, for many, will be a worthwhile sacrifice.
Certainly the sequel isn't going to convert anybody who didn't like the first entry, although it may tip those who were sitting on the fence into the 'like' camp thanks to the world-building on offer here. In many respects, it feels like a spiritual succession akin to The Raid 2's expansion on The Raid, which similarly jettisoned the simplistic efficiency of its debut in favour of epic expanded narrative second time around. Indeed fans of the first film - who equally appreciated the stunning action setpieces and intriguing comic book-style universe - will find all their dreams have come true with this sequel. For once a sequel that is bigger in a good way, without sacrificing quality, John Wick: Chapter 2 is a fantastic entry in what may well, one day, be looked back upon as one of the greatest action franchises of all time.
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