One of the more surprisingly entertaining films of 2014 was “John Wick,” a brutal action/shoot ‘em up that captivated those who decided to give the film a try. “John Wick” has quickly entered a sort of pseudo-cult like status by redefining the way action scenes are filmed and edited. Thus, its successor “John Wick: Chapter 2,” had some pretty big shoes to fill and ultimately delivers another great action film.
“John Wick: Chapter 2” picks up a few weeks after the original film, with the titular character, John Wick (Keanu Reeves), seeking to clear up all the loose ends left over from the first film. Once word gets out that the scariest hit man on the planet has left retirement, it doesn’t take long until the rest of the assassins’ underworld takes notice. Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), a high-ranking assassin, calls in a favor to John Wick that sets Wick against the rest of his contemporaries.
The biggest concern I had for this film was that I believed it was an unnecessary sequel. The events and motivations in the first film wrapped up very nicely, and I had some apprehension that this movie would end up being a sort of cash grab, trying to run off of the success of its predecessor.
My worries were erased within the opening scene of the film, as Director Chad Stahelski convincingly made the case that the character John Wick had a much bigger story to tell.
Calling the film “Chapter 2” is fitting because the production team made great efforts to make this story a continuation of the first, and part of that was done by expanding on the mythos established in “John Wick.” The idea of an assassins’ guild located in New York City was expanded to a league of assassins’ guilds entrenched all over the world. It gives the film a more cultured scope and really makes the audience feel like there is an assassin on every corner of every major city in the world.
From the maintenance worker at the subway station to the homeless man sitting in the park, every character has some sort of purpose that goes deeper than their initial presentation. The movie has an amazing subtext that has the viewer questioning how involved this league of assassins really is. It is truly amazing how well the world building is in the film, considering the small budget and how personal and narrow the story is.
The action scenes in the film are undoubtedly the best part. Every action scene, and there are a lot of them, is choreographed to near perfection. Keanu Reeves is convincing as a martial artist and as a marksman. The whole film succeeds or fails based upon his performance and just like the previous film, Reeves is able to convince the audience he is a bad ass not to be trifled with.
“John Wick: Chapter 2” is filled with head shots, broken bones and kicks to the groin, but the best parts of every fight scene are found in the ways John creatively takes out some opponents. Without spoiling too much of the film, it does give the best action scene involving a pencil since “The Dark Knight.” The fight scenes aren’t conventional, and that only elevates the action in the film.
Other fantastic performances were generated from the actor/singer Common and the actress Ruby Rose. Both of them play very convincing assassins, and their fight scenes individually stand out in the movie. Common (as Cassius) gives an especially great performance that rivals Reeves’ performance. When they meet on screen to fight, it feels electric, and Common does such a great job as Cassius that you do believe at a few points that he may take down the world’s greatest assassin.
One last positive I want to touch on is the editing in the film. It is pretty stellar. Good editors don’t force the audience to manually track the movement in an action scene, rather they edit in such a way that viewers have to move their eyes as little as possible from one cut to the next. The editing team was able to edit the fight scenes wonderfully. On top of that, during the fight scenes, the director and his editing team didn’t use the multiple cuts that pretty much every action film uses today.
This allows the fight scenes to feel more authentic and less chaotic as a result and is much more impressive from a cinematographic standpoint. The editing and storytelling also do an impeccable job building, holding and releasing tension. When the story demands that the audience hold their breath, they’ll make you hold it so long you think you’re drowning. At other times, when the audience thinks they know how a story beat is going to resolve, they subvert that and go in a different and unique direction.
As far as negatives for the film, there are a lot of characters. I stated earlier that every character on screen feels like she has a purpose, and that is incredibly cool, but it also gets a tad overwhelming trying to keep track of every character in the film. Aside from that, Wick’s motivation for taking up the gun in the first film is resolved at the end of the second, and thus they spend a lot of time in the first act building his motivation to fight again. It can feel a little slow for the first 20 minutes after the opening scene.
“John Wick: Chapter 2” is an impressive addition to the action film genre. It combines martial arts, an array of guns and a deep and dense mythos that had me wanting more by the time the credits began to roll. If you want to see a good but hyper-violent action film, you can’t do much better than “John Wick: Chapter 2.”
I give the film 8.5 out of 10.