In one of the rare peaceful moments throughout John Wick: Chapter 2, Keanu Reeves sports a turtleneck around the scenic streets of Rome. That’s what kind of film this is; even its lulls are somehow indescribably awesome.
Chapter 2 is a direct continuation of its cult-hit predecessor John Wick, picking up where it left off. John Wick (Reeves) is out of retirement and has unwillingly returned to his day job of killing just about anybody who gets in his way. He’s a notorious and feared assassin in the criminal underworld of New York who is mourning the loss of his wife to terminal illness and, more recently, his dog to Russian mobsters. When an Italian crime boss from his past arrives on his doorstep and demands that a debt is paid, Wick is dragged even deeper into the lifestyle he so desperately wants to leave behind. Sounds like a pretty standard action film, right? Well, here’s where it gets interesting…
John Wick: Chapter 2 features simply some of the best choreographed, performed and captured action ever on film. This is wholly due to director Chad Stahelski’s prowess in this field, being a former stuntman to Reeves. The hand-to-hand combat is brutally realistic and the shootouts are almost operatic, orchestrated and executed with clinical rhythm and flow. There’s an insane sequence in the catacombs of Rome that almost resembles a first-person shooter game but is impeccably lit and captivatingly staged. In fact, each sequence in Chapter 2 is as richly detailed and carefully accomplished as the last. The stylised, crisp digital cinematography from Dan Laustsen is a standout. His camerawork is precisely placed, never incoherent and gorgeous to look at – an attribute that manages to heighten every other component of the film. Kevin Kavanaugh’s resourceful and colourful production design designates every physical conflict with a unique scenario or setting, which means they feel instantly iconic.
If The Dark Knight was one of the best sequels of all time (or at least superhero sequel) this feels like one of the best action sequels. Screenwriter Derek Kolstad cleverly doubles down on the premise of his original story, aggrandising the myth-like figure of John Wick into something that transcends human and expands the universe to accommodate this extra dimension. What it lacks in a solid villain, it makes up for in the sheer number of various underworld bosses and hitmen. Absurdly, it seems that every inhabitant of New York is a rival assassin, but this narrative quirk remarkably works because of the imagined world that’s been built around it. Every character – new and existing – feels so effortlessly lived-in that they could easily be simultaneously starring in their own spin off movies. If you can excuse some awkward dialogue and implausible plotting, Kolstad’s screenplay manages to tick every box that a good sequel should, while furthering the character development of Wick. In the first film, he was driven by revenge; here he’s in survival mode, which delivers a completely different and electrifying dynamic.
Every frame and scene in John Wick: Chapter 2 is brimming with visible effort and skill, which is extremely rewarding and satisfying to watch. But beyond its technical accomplishment is a feeling that’s difficult to convey. Sometimes a film is just great because… it is. Its merits transcend what is quantifiable. Like the idea of Keanu Reeves flaunting a turtleneck around Rome, it’s just fucking awesome.