John Wick: Chapter 2 Review

“John Wick” deservedly earned a cult following in 2014 because of the way director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad blended revenge-driven action with martial arts and the aesthetics of both first-person shooter video games and graphic novels. They created this seedy, neon hit-man underworld and tapped perfectly into the strengths of star Keanu Reeves. In “John Wick: Chapter 2,” Stahelski and Kolstad bask a little in their first film’s unexpected limelight and deliver a film that’s in ways satisfying and a little disappointing.

The story of the first “John Wick” was an emotional cannon shot that never lost momentum. “Chapter 2” begins shortly after that film’s events with the introduction of the first film baddie’s brother (Peter Stormare), a wink acknowledging the action movie cliché of the previous villain’s sibling commanding the sequel. This taxi garage sequence acts as more as a cold open/prologue that provides fan service rather than contributing anything to the movie. We don’t start to feel that first film’s incredible momentum until nearly an hour into the runtime.

“Chapter 2” introduces us to the man who helped John Wick earn his initial “retirement,” Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), who visits John’s home — just as he finally actually appears to be moving on — to cash in a marker, a very serious blood debt that John must repay if asked. When John refuses D’Antonio’s bold job request, D’Antonio blows his house to smithereens. John caves and fulfills the mission (in Rome), but then things take a bad turn for him and he goes on the run.

Kolstad carefully generates scenarios that will lead to more moody, dark, superfluous action sequences similar to the first film in which John will take down dozens of armed men at a time. In that modus, “John Wick: Chapter 2” is truly gratifying, but there are times when it feels paint-by-numbers or as though some arbitrary obstacles were needlessly thrown in John’s way for the sake of our trigger-happy entertainment. Every action movie can hit a point of desensitization, but this movie hits it early on and then Stahelski largely course-corrects as the stakes get more interesting. The modern art mirror exhibit finale is a bit stylistically on the nose, but everything that happens between when John goes on the run and until then works pretty well.

Side by side with “John Wick,” however, “Chapter 2” doesn’t measure up, largely because Stahelski and Kolstad seem more interested in celebrating their initial success through a series of nods rather than focusing on generating new ideas that could expand upon the framework of the first film. Most unfortunately, the film revisits the same exact themes (e.g. can John find peace? Is he as bad as the bad guys he kills? etc.) John takes a step back in terms of character growth and has to go through the whole revenge thing again, only with less powerful motivation.

Not to disparage “John Wick: Chapter 2” too much, however, because it doesn’t run into the usual pitfalls of bad action sequels. Stahelski and Kolstad seem to understand the fine line between acknowledging your initial film’s strengths and assets and utilizing them in the right ways versus leaning on them completely and assuming you can set up the same circumstances and deliver a similar result. The novelty of “John Wick” was never going to be replicated, and though they certainly could’ve spent more time building on it and taking risks, fulfilling the essential requirements counts for a lot.


3.5/5 Stars

John Wick: Chapter 2
Directed by Chad Stahelski
Written by Derek Kolstad
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Ricardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, Common, Ian McShane


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