It has been three years since the release of Keanu Reeves’ turn as retired assassin, John Wick, in what came to be a surprisingly visceral beautiful piece of action cinema. The first film was a shock with not only its impressive dedication to next level “gun-fu” fight choreography, but also for the way it fused gorgeous visuals and contained subtle, yet effective, unique world building. Chad Stahelski and Keanu not only match the merits of the first film with John Wick: Chapter 2, but even exceed the first in many forms. John Wick is back!
Chad Stahelski sat alone in the director’s seat this time around, as David Leitch did not return to the serie as co-director, but Stahelski makes it very clear that he recognizes everything that made the first film a triumph. At first, the film does feel like it sticks a little too much to the formula of the first one, especially in the order of events. We see John’s home, the assassin hotel, John gearing up in suit and arsenal, a night club scene. However, it would be foolish to ignore all the new material and different ways this installment improves from prior executions. John Wick introduced to us a hidden network of assassins with their own rules, regulations, and currency. This allowed the film to have an authentic reality of its own, and Chapter 2 expands on this lore exceptionally. With every breath the John Wick mythology is expanded. New strips of the assassins’ world and their mechanics are introduced with small details such as a new marker, a silver metal cup in the a train station, or a simple phone call in a park plaza. We get a much deeper look into the network of assassins and how exactly they function. This film adds to the franchise’s world, and without an excessive use of exposition as well. The beauty of the John Wick franchise is the subtlety of its narrative, and its complexity in action.
The cinematography of the film also takes a few steps forward from the previous installment. Images and colors create for an atmosphere of rage, intensity, and damnation. I believe where the film parts from the first is John’s arc, and the imagery matches these arcs. In the first film, we see many shades of bright green and blue, and although the film is a very violent one; John is ultimately on a pursuit for peace but by the means of revenge.This is a unique take on the revenge narrative, because in this context, John will find peace once the bloodshed is over. John is running towards a goal. In Chapter 2 John is forced back into the assassin world, and this time he’s running from his sins. John is quickly learning that although he wants to be away from his former life, he cannot outrun his past. I found this film to have more vibrant red and dark purple hues. It’s a nice mix for what John faces, the life he left behind. Because of these differences in narrative, I feel that the first film holds more of an emotional beat, especially because of the introduction. However, Chapter 2 still excels in so many ways.
Fans of the first movie might have picked up on its own awkward style of humor, particularly with the glorification of John’s fame. It seems Stahelski and Kolstad picked up on the response to its (possibly unintentional) humor and cranked it up a bit for this turn. I find the funniest moments to be between John and Common’s character, Cassian, who has proved to be a great addition to the franchise. John and Common have a nice fight scene that tops any of the hand to hand combat in the first installment. It’s fairly lengthy and a nice display of the crew’s dedication to top fight choreography. The catacombs action set will thrill you the same ways that only Keanu Reeves in a suit can, but my favorite set was the final one. It’s beautiful, lengthy, and it surely served a headache for the crew to sort out.
If you enjoyed the first film or want to see an original action piece that exceeds standards, please go watch this movie! It’s a tough box office weekend with hard competition up against Lego Batman and Fifty Shades Darker (sadly), and there’s already talks for a third film. By the way, it ends in a perfect way for a third movie that will only leave you wanting more.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is playing nationwide in theaters now.