“Do you want a war, or do you want to just give me a gun?”-John Wick
Let’s hope that John Wick never really retires, because the action lovers need him.
“John Wick: Chapter 2” is proof that great action films still exist. You will leave this film on a high that few films can produce, and you will exit the theater needing more of it. In a day and age where pure guilty pleasure action adventures are dying nearly as quick a death as westerns, here comes a sequel to the best action film of the past decade(the original “John Wick”) that doesn’t just earn its place, but improves on the original. You heard me right: “John Wick: Chapter 2” takes the world of the original and expands on it with great delight and panache.
Thank goodness a studio head allowed former stunt man Chad Stahelski to direct a film and recruit the actor he doubled for in The Matrix; Keanu Reeves. Watching the action-lover’s ballet that takes place in this film is like revisiting an old friend that you thought died a while back. The exact dose of adrenaline that it takes to acknowledge that a film is doing its job is on display here. Stahelski and Reeves deserve an Oscar for the stunts they create and execute here. It’s the little things that stand out. The roles that a waterfall and a row of cars on a declining street play in a gunfight. The way that a crowded room can turn into a dedication to a 1980’s John Woo action flick. Too much action and blood in “John Wick” is simply not enough.
All I hear about Reeves is how he is a wooden actor and he doesn’t do a good job, but those people don’t get the point. Action stars aren’t required to act. They need to convince, have a presence and do the grunt work. Keanu Reeves didn’t enter Hollywood to win an Oscar, so he puts in the hard work of an action star, and that is where he flourishes.
“Speed”, “Point Break” and “The Matrix” are good doses of Reeves, but his best work is playing John Wick with restraint and confidence. He doesn’t have a lot of dialogue as this character, but the greatest action heroes in the history of cinema didn’t either. He goes to work when the bullets fly and the knee caps snap. Reeves is 50 and simply doesn’t care anymore. He’s leaning into what he knows best.
Derek Kolstad’s script is a perfect tool for the outrageous stunts and kinetic energy of the franchise, and the little quirks are the real kickers. The way these deadly assassins live by certain codes, and have the honor that bad guys in other films don’t have. The action stretches from New York to Rome in this film, and fans of the first film get to see a new Continental Hotel in action. A particular sequence that shines is where Wick is walking wounded down a street and has to take out hitman after hitman, because they all get the open contract on his head at once. The script is precise without losing the touch of what made the original great. Make the action the star.
The supporting cast is great, and pairs well with Reeves. Ian McShane, Lance Reddick and John Leguizamo have small — yet vital — parts. There’s a wonderful Neo-Morpheus reunion with Laurence Fishburne, and Common has a few killer battles with Reeves. Everybody fits into their roles seamlessly.
The action is like a well-written symphony, with layered entertainment that doesn’t just end with a bullet or punch. You’ll chuckle at the sight of Wick sending a man flying with his car door, or an extended fight that gathers intensity as it escalates or the patience of a final gun battle between Wick and his main adversary in a diverse maze of mirrors and doors. John Wick enters the dragon at one point in this film, and it’s a great homage to action films that cut the nonsense and delivered the goods.
That is what “John Wick: Chapter 2” does so well. It expands on the plot of the original, brings in new players, assembles two gadgets, but retain the direct entertainment process that made the 2014 film so good. There are no romantic subplots or slowing devices. At two hours, the film moves quick, and doesn’t waste a second of your time.
If you have a fever and a methodical action film made with true artistry is the cure, “John Wick: Chapter 2” is the prescription. It is the rare sequel that wasn’t just required and desired, but improves on the original and leaves you asking for a third dose.