What is John Wick: Chapter 2?
Keanu Reeves returns as John Wick, the notorious hitman who killed everyone when a mobster’s son shot his dog dead in the first film. Having completed that mission, John is hoping to retire – but just when he thought he was out, they pull him back in… a former associate insisting Wick live up to the blood oath they shared years before. To honour his part of the deal, John must travel to Rome to pit his wits against the world’s deadliest killers.
The Boogeyman Returns
‘Baba Yaga’ is back. The most feared assassin in the criminal underworld – whom all the other feared assassins call ‘Boogeyman’ – appeared to have hung up his guns at the end of the first flick. But at the beginning of Chapter 2, he wants his car back, sparking a breathless opening 20 minutes in which John kills a bunch of henchmen; literally fights a fleet of taxis; and then faces off with Peter Stormare, who shows up in a wicked cameo as the brother of the bad guys from Chapter 1.
John then endeavours to call time on his life of crime once and for all. But leaving his shadowy assassin’s guild is easier said then done. Especially when there are blood pacts – called markers – that bind two souls together. If you dishonour the marker, you die. If you kill the owner of the marker, you die. And if you run, you die. Meaning that not dying is something of a challenge in this context.
John tries his best to avoid carrying out the request, however, making proceedings something of a slog during these scenes, the character grappling with his conscience when you just want to watch him laying waste to great swathes of well-dressed villains. It doesn’t help that watching someone stress about fulfilling their side of a bargain isn’t as compelling as watching a dude avenge the death of his dog. Mercifully, when the combat does kick off, John doesn’t hold back.
And he’s played to perfection by Keanu, these films knowing exactly how to use his very specific set of skills. Reeves looks great in a sharp suit, especially when walking away from an explosion. He’s also often more effective the less dialogue he’s given, and John remains a man of few words. Instead, he’s a man of focus, commitment, and sheer force of will. Reeves brings all those characteristics to life via a series of grimaces and glares, and it’s electrifying stuff.
He’s again surrounded by brilliant character actors clearly having a blast. Ian McShane, John Leguizamo and Lance Reddick all return from the first film. Newly entering the arena are the likes of Franco Nero, Peter Serafinowicz, and Common, who steals several of the scenes he’s in. There’s also fun to be had watching Reeves re-team with his Matrix co-star Laurence Fishburne, here playing the mysterious ‘Bowery King.’ In fact, the only performer letting the side down is Ruby Rose, playing a deaf assassin who fails to ever fully convince.
Chapter 2 smartly extends and expands the underworld established in the first film, with the Continental’s influence spreading far and wide. There are new rules to learn and new terminology to get your head round. Indeed, there are times when everyone seems to be in on the conspiracy – most notably during a show-stopping moment towards the end of the film. But that’s the brilliance of the self-contained universe that writer Derek Kolstad is slowly crafting – it has depth and layers that set the narrative apart from your average action flick.
Is John Wick: Chapter 2 Good?
But action is the foundation on which this burgeoning franchise is being built, and on that front Chapter 2 delivers handsomely. Helmer Chad Stahelski is no longer co-directing with longtime collaborator David Leitch, but if anything, the ante has been upped this time out. The aforementioned pre-credit scene is a humdinger, while a gun-fight in the Roman catacombs is as stylish as it is tense. But it’s the last hour that truly elevates John Wick 2, with sequence after sequence topping what’s gone before as the film works towards a grandstanding finale. Stunts defy both gravity and belief, while kills are as original as they are unspeakable.
All of which leads to a crescendo of carnage back on American soil. One which functions as both a deeply satisfying conclusion, and a teaser for something more. And on this evidence, Chapter 3 can’t come round soon enough.