Turns everything up to eleven and doesn’t miss a beat.
As someone who grew up watching action movies and practicing the fight moves in my living room, I can hardly tell you how satisfying a film like John Wick: Chapter 2 is. Action movies have been all but consumed by the superhero genre, in which bankable stars and visual effects take precedent over martial artistry and in-camera special effects. John Wick: Chapter 2 is a perfect sequel and a celebration of the hard work that goes into crafting a great action film.
In the first film, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) lifted himself out of retirement to enact vengeance on a man who stole his car and killed his dog. Chapter 2 sees Wick again in retirement, still grieving for his wife and with a new pup to keep him company. An old acquaintance (played by Riccardo Scamarcio) disrupts Wick’s peace with a reminder: John would do one more job for him, which he could call upon at any time. Of course, things go remarkably haywire as an assassination plot turns into a double cross and Wick is soon being hunted by every hitman in the business.
Keanu Reeves is marvellous as Wick. Along with stunt-coordinator-turned-director Chad Stahelski (with whom Reeves worked in the Matrix movies), Reeves again shows remarkable dedication to both the role’s tortured emotional core, and its physical demands. Bringing his knowledge of martial arts and a stoic, all-business facade, Reeves compliments the humour in Derek Kolstad’s sometimes ludicrous script. As a character, Wick is not the John McClane, relatable everyman type, nor the one-liner spouting Schwarzenegger type. He instead plays everything straight faced, even an uproarious scene in which Wick and a colleague (played by rapper and actor Common) are forced to have a quiet drink together after beating each other almost to death.
It’s this sense of ludicrousness that has soured some critics to Chapter Two, deeming it forgettable trash or little more than a technical exercise in filmmaking. It’s true that Dan Laustsen’s cinematography is lavish, contrasting the gritty tones of New York with the elegant royalty of old Italy, and that Kolstad’s script is often an excuse to set up cool fight scenes, but this is the kind of movie you’re meant to marvel at. Eccentric characters like Ruby Rose’s mute Ares, or Laurence Fishburne’s Bowery King belong here—this a genre movie on steroids, upping the ante on everything the first one hinted at.
If you long for the martial arts movie boom of the 90s and feel underwhelmed by today’s CGI-infested action sequences, or you’re simply keen on returning to the Wickiverse, John Wick: Chapter Two will give you the high dose of zany ultraviolence and technical expertise you crave.
Tom Bensley is a freelance writer in Melbourne who reviews anything he attends, watches or reads. It’s a compulsion, really. Follow him @TomAliceBensley.