John Wick can come back any time he damn well pleases. That was the message delivered by the 2014 action hit that not only saw the eponymous assassin returning to his death-dealing ways, it was a return of sorts for the film’s star, Keanu Reeves. Keanu is back, John Wick is back, and the film that follows, John Wick: Chapter 2, is a perfect, action-packed, bullet-riddled, blood-soaked sequel. The follow-up does precisely what a sequel should do. It’s bigger than its predecessor, and more elaborate than the efficient, streamlined actioner it follows. It isn’t necessarily better. That would truly be an impossible task, but John Wick: Chapter 2 delivers on all this new franchise promises, an action extravaganza that keeps us amped for more.
Dropping us right back into the criminal underbelly of this growing, cinematic world, John Wick: Chapter 2 begins shortly after the first film ends. Before the opening title we discover Wick still very much in the game, his certain set of skills doing a nice number on the Russian chop shop that is now in possession of his glorious, customized ’69 Mustang stolen from him in the first film. The once-retired enforcer tears through his opponents with ease, and, without breaking much of a sweat, Wick gets his car back and returns again to the retirement (and his dog) for which he longs, but we know that can only last so long, don’t we.
As Winston, the manager of the underworld Continental hotel played by Ian McShane, warned Wick in the first film: “You dip so much as a pinky back into this pond, you may well find something reaches out and drags you back into its depths.” That something in Chapter 2 comes in the form of Santino D’Antonio, a crime boss on the Italian side of this underworld played by Riccardo Scarmarcio and a man who shares much history with our hero. D’Antonio forces Wick back into the game for one, last mission, the rules of game forbidding Wick to turn his old accomplice down, and, so he once again finds himself outnumbered, outgunned, and with odds stacked against him. Fear not, though, those among you who are fearful of John Wick: Chapter 2 revisiting the animal cruelty of the first film. Wick’s dog ends up fine this time around.
The rest of the human characters in the film, on the other hand, are completely fair game. Directed by former stuntman and co-director of the original, Chad Stahelski, and with a screenplay by Derek Kolstad, John Wick: Chapter 2 doesn’t concern itself with simply playing fan service to those of us who fell head over heals with the character’s first film. Sure, there are references to the first film and certain jokes that casually come up. Most of this is found in the sequel’s opening, action, set piece, an intro that serves more as a coda to 2014’s John Wick than it does a launching point for the follow-up. That isn’t stopping John Wick: Chapter 2 from delivering on a certain number of promises set up in that first film.
Stahelski’s history with stunt work is on full display throughout the film, the opening letting us know just how hard-hitting and pulse-pounding this sequel is going to be. That’s before any of the guns come out, too. It comes to visceral reality through Stahelski’s brilliant usage of practical effects, the presence of digital imagery obviously there as well, but hidden from the critical eye. As with the first film, all the stunts and awesome, visual thrills keep our interest firmly in its grip even if the narrative isn’t quite as efficient or as energetic as that first film.
The film does wonders with its world building, though, Kolstad’s screenplay seemingly more interested in expanding the universe that surrounds Wick than it is the character himself. That was definitely one of the higher points in John Wick‘s endless slate of high points, the way it created this fictitious universe and the colorful characters who fill it. In Chapter 2 we’re introduced to even more of that world. The organizations, people, and even rules that apply here are increasingly interesting, and the constant barrage of guest stars playing those nefarious but engaging characters is even more on point than that found in the first film.
Reeves has a solid handle on the Wick character to be sure, his somewhat wooden delivery almost becoming a key trait here and his physical abilities as pristine as the actual character. There also has to be room for commendations on all of the supporting players here, though, McShane sliding effortlessly back into the Winston character. John Leguizamo and Lance Reddick return to their respective roles, as well, the latter’s connection with Wick’s dog creating one of the most interesting narratives found within the film.
The new characters and the actors portraying them are right there in terms of holding our interest, though. Common is something of an MVP here as Cassian, a bodyguard and enforcer with abilities that might just be equal to Wick. Scamarcio’s D’Antonio is a little obvious as the villain, but the players built up around him keep it all the more interesting, most notably Ruby Rose kicking some serious ass as D’Antonio’s mute head of security. Laurence Fishburne reteams with his Matrix co-star as The Bowery King, boss of the underworld to the underworld, the homeless and panhandlers who make up the eyes of the city. Naturally, Fishburne has oodles of fun playing the part. Last but certainly not least is Franco Nero making a special appearance as Julius, Winston’s Italian counterpart and manager of the Rome branch of The Continental.
All of these players appear to be having copious amounts of fun playing their respective parts, and it’s no wonder Chapter 2 ends up being just as entertaining as the 2014 original. There is often apprehension when it comes to newly created franchises, especially when it comes to something as surprising and incredible as John Wick. With everyone on board doing some of their finest work both in front of and behind the camera, it’s an even bigger surprise when a follow-up matches its predecessor in terms of quality. Chapter 2 nails everything that made the first film such a success and even capitalizes on the possibility of something bigger and more groundbreaking, and while the film takes its time setting the Wick character up for a potential third outing there’s very little doubt that such a film would be anything but another, badass actioner.