With a shower of films coming out in 2014 that demanded our love and attention, it still doesn’t surprise me that John Wick hit us like it did. An action movie that made such heavy use of long shots and steady cam, abandoning the shaky cut-and-paste of Neeson’s Taken franchise, and that revived a star from obscurity in much the same way might not have worked. This whole thing could have been a stumbling mess. Instead it was just awesome. We heard they were immediately making a sequel and the ramp-up, with trailers indicating it was not only going to be bigger but bloodier, had some of us worried and some people just psyched.
It was completely worth the wait. This one was absolute insanity from start to finish. Tim Roth appearing for a moment to remind us that every Eastern European fears this guy deep in their bones and that just the mention of his name can bring on the shakes.
John Wick: Chapter 2 follows up moments after the first film ends, with our titular badass being sucked further back into the world of slaughter and mayhem that he had left behind. Rules and then betrayal will follow him to Rome and back as he continues fighting for freedom from his past. A new dog, a new enemy, and a new hotel are all just some of the new things about this one.
The body count ramps up here. I believe it is nearly double what it was in the first film and is displayed through long, single-take sequences that really show you what director Chad Stahelski can really do. Keanu is working with his former stunt coordinator here and it shows, the sequences methodically choreographed into a dance. This is where the film can threaten to derail, as the fights border on George Lucas-like levels of ballet over aggression but Reeves manages to sell the brutality of each blow and that keeps it grounded. Each sequence really feels like people trying to kill each other and that is significantly
harder to do than one might think.
How good is Common in this? I’ve been a fan of him as an actor since Hell on Wheels, but this was just awesome. He’s lean, he’s fast, and he’s out for blood. Passive aggressively silenced bullets are thrown instead of the middle finger, his knife-fight work is excellent, and his chemistry with Reeves works to make an uncomfortable respect work out well.
Let’s talk about the world-building in this. It’s a phenomenal thing that so many sequels fail on. Characters like the sommelier or the Bowery King, expansion of the Continental as a franchise, and a really interesting discussion about just how much those little gold coins are worth are all things you are in-store for. This would seemingly slow down the action but they manage to be well-woven together throughout the narrative and I was impressed with it. I want to know more about this world, you know? New ideas and characters and been put out there, as though established, and they make me want to learn more.
The only true nitpicks I have with this film are trivial. The film is a bit oddly paced, with a couple of moments lagging after massive action sequences. I thought the back and forth with Fishbourne’s Bowery King was a bit unnecessary (but it was awesome) just due to how much it slowed down the ramp-up we had been in the midst of. I also think that this was just less of a surprise than the original John Wick, making this hit a little less hard. I watched the first film in a dingy basement with a friend, empty beer bottles and an empty pizza box providing a nice bouquet of scent to compliment the sheer testosterone we were being assaulted with onscreen and it was incredibly random. Now we have John Wick: Chapter 2, which was seen in packed house on opening night full of genuine fans of the franchise. It was a different experience and while less of a happy surprise it was no less awesome.
Guys, gals, this movie is great. It is completely deserving of the accolade it is getting both critically and from the audiences. Chocolates? Nah. “Perhaps flowers?” you ask. Get out of here with that! Grab your lovers, fall into your fluffy seats as the lights dim, and love each other as you watch an actor slaughter his way through countless redshirts and remind us that yeah, he’s still awesome. Best Valentine’s Day ever?