Keanu Suits Up for John Wick: Chapter Two
February 14, 2017
Among the biggest surprises of the decade, 2014’s John Wick was an exhilarating, inexplicably emotional film that reinvigorated the seemingly dead career of Keanu Reeves while simultaneously introducing two singular talents in the form of directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. Now, Wick is back with a bold, inventive sequel that ranks as one of the best action films in years.
Chapter Two wastes no time in sending John back into the fray. Having eliminated Viggo and Iosef Tarasov by the end of the first film, Wick returns to his home, finally having the time to grieve for his late wife (Bridget Moynahan). That is until he’s visited by Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), the ambitious brother of an Italian crime boss and owner of a blood debt with John Wick, who drags him back into the world he’d hoped he’d escaped for good.
Although only Stahelski was able to return to the director’s chair for this second outing, the first Wick’s barrage of near-orchestral violence is retained, albeit with an obvious budget increase. While the first film felt built around a handful of enjoyable beats, the sequel manages to craft a near-constant stream of action, each heart pounding skirmish spilling into the next beautifully. An almost 30 minute sequence set in Rome is particularly effective, jumping from a rave to the city’s underground catacombs and finally to the moonlit city streets.
Each of these expertly crafted gunfights are held together by Reeves, whose inherent likability and remarkably intimidating “thousand-yard stare” carry him to his best performance since 1991’s My Own Private Idaho. His commitment to the role is clear throughout, the lack of stunt doubles maximizing the tension. As with the first film, he’s aided by a terrific supporting cast of action stars (Common and Ruby Rose are brilliant as two rival assassins) and veteran character actors (Ian McShane and Peter Serafinowicz nearly steal the film from Reeves). The Matrix’s Laurence Fishburne also pops up in a small role as the leader of a group of homeless assassins, and despite the entertainment value of seeing Neo and Morpheus reunited on screen, the cameo feels more than a little winky and unnecessary.
John Wick: Chapter Two also brilliantly expands on the oddly fascinating world of international hitmen established in the original. Whether by introducing a second Continental (essentially a hotel for assassins) or building up the legend of the High Council (a sect of powerful crime lords that govern the criminal world), each new layer is consistently engrossing. However, it does begin to step into the realm of lunacy with an ending that doesn’t quite work at a logical level and comes off more as a cheap stunt than an inspired decision.
A cut above even the first film, John Wick: Chapter Two is a thrilling, perfectly cast return to a universe that’s already proving to be one of the most compelling in action film history.