John Wick was easily one of the biggest surprises of 2014. The film starring Keanu Reeves, as a retired hit man who goes to war with the Russian Mafia after they kill his dog and steal his car, persevered on its strengths to deliver a new icon in the action lexicon. With John Wick: Chapter 2 we find out John’s work isn’t done as Keanu Reeves and company go into full franchise mode to take us further into Wick’s world.
Chapter 2 is surprisingly a bit heavier on plot as John is once again pulled out of retirement thanks to a “Marker”, a disc that is essentially an unbreakable blood oath. John has to either fulfill the request of the holder or face execution. The “Marker”, which was given to Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), when he assisted John with his impossible task gave him his freedom from the life, but left him with a debt. Santino’s request is that John kills his sister who holds a seat on the “High Table”, which is the ruling faction of the world of assassins. While completing the task, John learns that Santino hoped to use the power vacuum he’s created take over New York. Thanks to this info and killing a member of the “High Table”, Wick becomes a loose end that needs to be eliminated.
Sadly Santino didn’t see the first film or he would know killing the boogeyman is no simple task. This forces Wick to work his way once again through the colorful world of assassins and their wardens this time both across Europe and in New York. We are given an even bigger glimpse of this world as Wick must battle his way to Santino with a 7 million dollar bounty on his head as almost everyone he comes across is a hopeful assassin. In keeping with the rules of any decent sequel John Wick doubles in insanity and the body count (128 vs. 77), as he tears through the streets eliminating anyone stupid enough to get in his way in a rather spectacular fashion.
John Wick’s return feels effortless as it unleashes a film that is utterly flawless as it tears through its 120-minute runtime, while still leaving ample room and plot for a sequel. Most of the original team behind the first film is back with the sequel helmed by the first film’s Co-director, Chad Stahelski with a script by the scribe of the first film Derek Kolstad (The other co-director is now helming the Deadpool Sequel). The script dodges the usual pitfalls of an action sequel while continuing to craft the world around John Wick delivering a sequel that solidifies it as one of the best and most promising action franchise to emerge in the last few years.
Keanu hasn’t lost a beat this time around as the John Wick’s level of violence borders on absurdity in wide open action set pieces that don’t hide behind quick cuts, CG or shaky-cam to cheat the viewer. Keanu is joined by not only Laurence Fishburne as the Bowery King, but Common as Cassian a rival hitman and Ruby Rose as the mute Ares, who is Santino’s right hand and a nod to the Raid’s Hammer Girl. For hard-core action fans Django himself Franco Nero even makes an appearance as well, fittingly enough as the warden of the Italian Continental. That’s the other thing, woven into Wick are some great homages to some action classics that put a new spin on some of your favorite films.
John Wick is definitely back and here to stay. Packed with some of the most insane practical stunt work you will see this year, the film is part love letter and part manifesto for what’s is to come from this series. Keanu Reeves pulled off a rare feat to launch such a physically demanding franchise this late in career, but just like John Wick he persevered to deliver a new action classic. John Wick is unrelenting, brutal and the new bar for action films going forward and given the reception so far we have a few more chapters to look forward to.