John Wick Chapter 2 (2017)
Dir.: Chad Stahelski
With the first John Wick, Keanu Reeves thrust himself back into the spotlight as an action hero for his first major action role in over a decade. Despite what one may think about the star's acting capabilities in the face of his usually out-performing costars, Reeves' skill in delivering stunt-heavy choreography and his commitment to the roles in which he is cast cannot be overstated. The film was an admirably crafted, well written action thriller that established an interesting universe full of vibrant characters and action set pieces that felt at equally unique, visceral, and real. While it may not have singularly revitalized Reeves' career, it did provide an upswing in interesting roles for the actor. But most importantly, Reeves and co. showed the world that well-crafted American action films are still relevant, in the wake of foreign hits like the Aussies' Mad Max: Fury Road and the Indonesian The Raid films. With John Wick: Chapter 2, Reeves, along with director Chad Stahelski, the cast, and crew, not only prove that they have enough action set pieces and creative ideas for an ultra-violent, high-octane sequel, but they also develop the John Wick universe, as the curtain is further lifted on the international assassin ring that Wick finds himself once again working with.
While one usually does not watch films such as these for the plot, the writing in the second John Wick film proves just as efficient and intriguing as the first film--and as taught as any drama currently lighting up the silver screen. Its strength is in its simplicity: through unforeseeable circumstances, John Wick once again goes on a mission to assassinate targets. I won't spoil particular details, but I will say that while Chapter 2 works as a standalone piece quite effectively, it would behoove you to watch the first film, as you will feel more invested in the characters, and you will understand the protagonist's motivations much more clearly. Most admirably from a narrative standpoint, the film never feels like it provides a plot that works seemingly as an obligatory excuse to progress from action set piece to action set piece. None of the same stunts and brutally efficient assassinations are repeated from the first film, and Reeves' commitment to realism (for instance: this is an action film in which characters have to reload the magazines in their guns)in the face of such dangerous looking stunts provides the viewer with a level of immersion that could rival only the likes of Tom Cruise in terms of sheer awe.
The pacing of the second film does feel a little bit slower than the first, though this is not to say it ever ceases to be interesting. The dramatic elements in Chapter 2 are carefully crafted and intentional; if you’re looking for Fury Road levels of non-stop tension and chase sequences, be forewarned that there are some breather scenes. Fortunately, they never feel unnecessary or forced. Overall, while the pacing has been changed, I appreciated how Chapter 2 built on the universe created by the first film, as it helped to augment the growing appreciation I had for the skill at which the film's secret society managed its deadly affairs. The pacing in the second film might not be as breakneck as the first, but for an action film fan, there are plenty of unique action pieces to keep the audience entertained from beginning to end.
Speaking of the action sequences, the technical prowess with which kills are attained by hitmen as efficient as Wick continues to be a driving thematic and visual strength in this sequel. Never does Wick run out of methods, tools, or ideas to bring down his aggressors. This time, the focus on Wick widens to include multiple other assassins similar to his skill level, and Wick feels more threatened than he did in the first film. Whereas the first film used its action to focus on how awesome John Wick is as an assassin, the second film balances this visual aspect by providing him with a small handful of worthier adversaries. The first Wick film showed a neat final confrontation between the titular character and the antagonist, but here Wick contends with more menacing adversaries. The stakes are raised in the action set pieces, partially as a result of these additions, and partially because Wick’s newfound mission in the film dictates he perform hits he does not necessarily want to undertake. The cinematography is lush and choreography is on par with such stylized action hits as The Matrix, but it never feels borrowed. Chapter 2 combines a use of dark and blueish color saturation with remarkable sound design in order to relay a visual kaleidoscope of violent delights unto the viewer. The film never ceases to be thrilling, even in its slow dramatic segments, because put simply, the filmmaking on display is astounding.
Reeves’ performance as John Wick remains consistent in the sequel, as he succeeds in remaining equally as heroic as he does deadly. Not only is his commitment to the stunt work throughout the film admirable, but he also shows his dedication to developing the character of John Wick beyond just a simple revenge-driven widower in Chapter 2. Through his conversations with other characters and his actions throughout the film, the audience learns more about Wick as an individual, as he proves more than just a singular entity of death-dealing vengeance. Welcome returns from Ian McShane and Lance Reddick further provide returns on investment from viewers of the first film, and Laurence Fishburne shows up in a surprising role as a character who intentionally comes out of nowhere. All of these players in this game of murder prove more than just pawns on the board, as they all have their own, unique agendas and individual guiding motivations. Whereas most of these characters existed in the first film as a conduit to further conduct Wick’s revenge to a more fruitful degree, here, they show much more personality, and the world-building feels more enriched for it. If John Wick becomes a multi-film franchise, as it seems like it has ambitions for, the cast and crew have provided two solid films worth of a foundation for its characters to explore in-depth.
What The Conjuring 2 did for horror last year, John Wick: Chapter 2 does for action films this year. Chapter 2 succeeds as a genre film just as well as its predecessor, and it's a confident, ultraviolent, stylishly thrilling good time. If you are a fan of big set-piece action films, creative gunplay, inventive choreography, believable world creation, or even just the first John Wick film, you will be nothing short of delighted by the second addition to its franchise.