John Wick: Chapter 2 Masters the Art of the Action Sequel

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) suits up for action in John Wick: Chapter 2

John Wick: Chapter 2 continues the adventures of the title character (Keanu Reeves), a master assassin who wants to leave his past behind and live a normal, quiet life (with his dog). When an old contact calls in a livelong favor, the rules of the guild stipulate that Wick go back into action for this final job. Wick reluctantly accepts after a bit of coercion, hopeful that closing this contract may allow him to find some peace. It does not.

What works in John Wick: Chapter 2 are Reeves’ performance, universe building, and the choreography. Keanu Reeves embodies Wick in an unusually effective manner. Wick is a person you could cross on the street or even have a light, mannerly conversation with and then give the man no further thought. Simultaneously, Wick is a calculating, unstoppable killing force. To play both concurrently so smoothly is a marvel and in this Reeves creates a character that will likely help define his career and perhaps his legacy.

It would be easy, but accurate, to label the first John Wick film as a basic revenge story. Yet, director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad, who both return for Chapter 2, did something brilliant with their first movie—they planted the seeds of a mythology. Great movie series are built on something otherworldly, and John Wick: Chapter 2 leans into this notion of storytelling by continuing to reveal a universe layered upon (or underneath?) our own populated with codes, rules, and even a currency all of its own. While the first thing people will undoubtedly praise about John Wick: Chapter 2 is the action (justifiably, and I’ll get to that), whether they realize it or not, their enjoyment secretly stems from the fact that they have been seduced by, and become invested in, this alternate reality.

No critique of John Wick: Chapter 2 will omit a mention of the “gun-fu” fire fights laden throughout the bloody romp that lasts just over two hours. This is to the credit of Stahleski and if that’s a new name to you, here’s a quick a history lesson—Stahleski’s big break was playing the stunt double for Reeves in The Matrix. Since then, he has over 70 stunt coordinator credits to his name, many focusing on martial arts. It is clear that through his vast experience working with various directors he has learned what does, and does not, work in an action film to keep the audience engaged. In short, John Wick: Chapter 2 opens the door for at least a conversation as to whether or not the Academy Awards should begin including a category for choreography—yes, it is that impressive.

While John Wick: Chapter 2 manages to deliver on everything it is proposing to sell, and more, it should be noted that the “for sale” sign is riddled with bullet holes and dripping with blood. Chapter 2 is a vicious, unapologetic exercise in gratuitous violence and there are certainly many who will be put off by the supreme lack of morality and the cascade of wanton disregard for life. This is simply a warning to the squeamish.

John Wick: Chapter 2 does something rare—it understands exactly what it is as a franchise. This sequel tweaks and polishes the formula of the original, giving audiences more of exactly what they loved from the predecessor. The mixing of Reeves’ supremely interesting and complex character with Stahleski’s incredible eye for action is a match made in heaven for lover of the genre.

Grade: A

Pictures courtesy of Lionsgate