I’ve expressed my sorrows for being late to the party on John Wick. I don’t even remember hearing about the first movie until well after it had already been in and out of theaters. The first movie is fantastic though, and I was not going to make the same mistake the second time around. Does John Wick: Chapter 2 live up to quite lofty expectations? Keep reading to find out!
As always, I plan on keeping this review completely spoiler free. Anything that may have been shown in the trailer is fair game, but nothing that would constitute a spoiler will be uttered in this review. With that being said, as long as you’ve seen the first movie, I don’t think it’s any spoiler at all to assume that loads of fools are going to get shot directly in the face. In the first movie, we’re briefly introduced to the former life that John Wick (Keanu Reeves) lead. We’re shown glimpses of a much larger world of assassins, and in a lot of ways know that we’ve just barely dipped our toes into something much larger. In John Wick: Chapter 2, we don’t quite dive in head first, but more so cannonball into that world.
The movie starts with just enough backstory to get anyone who may have missed the first movie an idea of what was happening. Really though, if you haven’t seen the first movie, just go and watch John Wick before heading to the theater for Chapter 2. You’ll be happy to know that John’s new canine companion is doing well when we meet up with him, and as a pit bull owner myself, I was so very happy to see the breed represented in a respectful manner. Anyone unfamiliar with pit bulls, this is how they really are.
It wouldn’t be much of an action movie if John wasn’t thrust back into, well, action, and an old acquaintance, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) is the one bringing John back into the fold. We see more here about how the larger world of assassins operates while referring to even deeper layers that we don’t immediately see. John is hesitant to even listen to what Santino wants from him but is eventually persuaded to hear him out. That’s about as deep into the story as I plan on going, though things do play out in a much more structured manner than the first film. Don’t get me wrong, John’s revenge was more than enough to move the action along in the first film, but it was nice to have something more substantial by way of a story here as well.
The question that some may undoubtedly ask is which film is better? I honestly haven’t completely decided yet, though I’ve been leaning ever so slightly towards the first film. That’s not to say that Chapter 2 isn’t spectacular — because it is — but there were a few small bits that kind of stuck out to me that just felt… off. As you’ve probably already guessed, this movie is still going to get a very good rating from me, and I will still absolutely recommend going to see it, but there were just a few rough spots here and there.
Several of our favorites from the first movie return for Chapter 2. Ian McShane reprises his role as Winston, the manager of the Continental. Lance Reddick returns as Charon, the concierge of the Continental, and John Leguizamo is still everybody’s favorite chop shop owner, Aurelio. Some of the main additions to the cast include Common playing the role of Cassian, Ruby Rose as Ares, and Laurence Fishburne joins the cast as the Bowery King. Each feels like a natural fit into this world, and each character meshes very well with the larger established world, providing an appropriate ally or enemy as is called for.
The action is, as one would expect, unrelenting. John Wick is a man to be feared, and there is no shortage of hired goons, stooges, and even other assassins on hand for John to use as headshot fodder. The expertly choreographed fight scenes continue to prove that Keanu Reeves is one of the hardest working guys in show business. Keanu did many of his own stunts, trained with all of the guns in the film, and that really makes for a much more polished product. His stalking, yet very efficient style is a testament to all of the training that he did, making for a much more believable character. We also see a more vulnerable side of John Wick in the second film. In John Wick, our titular character faced surprisingly little resistance on the way to his goal. Here, he’s challenged in ways we’ve not seen before, but I feel it’s a much stronger movie because of that.
The soundtrack fits the film very well. The score drives the action while never getting distracting, and the original songs for the film fit nicely. The camera work is also fantastic for most of the film. There are a few areas where you’re kind of left with a jumbled mess, but more often than not you’re getting a clear shot of every bit of the crazy action on the screen.
Look, if you liked John Wick, you’re going to love John Wick: Chapter 2. If you didn’t like John Wick, you probably won’t. If you haven’t seen John Wick, seriously go watch it, it’s fantastic. Then, follow the guidelines laid out in the first two sentences of this paragraph. Chapter 2 is yet another expertly crafted action movie. It is over the top, and utterly violent, but if you loved the first movie, you shouldn’t have expected anything less.