John Wick: Chapter 2 review: Viva la Violence
On paper, John Wick Chapter 2 really shouldn’t work. Part of what made the original so memorable is that it didn’t have depth in the traditional sense. It had a goal, and audiences rooted for the hero protagonist to complete that goal based on a single, powerful moment. The less known the better as John Wick danced through a bloody and violent world, and expanding on that risks undoing what made it work.
Despite the almost contradiction in creating a John Wick sequel, Chapter 2 pulls it off by sticking to a straightforward plot without going too deep into the background. The mysterious world around Wick begins to expand like a murderous Harry Potter world with a set of rules and rulers that exist underneath our own world, but you don’t need to know why it exists, just that it does. The film manages to avoid going too deep into the characters’ pasts, which helps to keep you in the moment and your focus on the important aspect: the action.
Generally, I advocate for more depth in movies, but not here. The moment we learn that John Wick was a former Navy SEAL that was trapped into becoming an assassin, or that he is actually a government experiment, or he is the son of a powerful crime boss that was gun downed in front of a young John, the property will die. It functions thanks to the streamlined nature. Plus, it’s not like we don’t understand the concept. It’s not complicated.
John Wick Chapter 2 expands the story in the same way that Gareth Evans’ Raid series expanded. You take a single idea, throw in a lot of fights, and rarely stop to breath.
Chapter 2 picks up right where the previous film left off, with Wick (Keanu Reeves) having just completed his brutal revenge. Despite insisting that he is still retired, his recent actions have brought Wick to the attention of Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), the man that helped him leave the violent life behind – at a cost.
Unable to escape D’Antonio’s marker, Wick is drawn into another impossible mission that sends to Rome. That puts him in the crosshairs of some of the world’s most remarkable and unique assassins, all of whom want him dead.
Then John Wick kills a lot of people. A whole lot of people. Like, the equivalent of a small town filled with Starfleet members in red shirts. But Wick kills more unfortunate red shirts than Star Trek ever could.
The majority of the film is spent in one fight scene or another, but director Chad Stahelski has a knack at knowing how far to push a scene and when to stop. Every time you start to think the action is on the verge of becoming monotonous, it jumps to something else.
The film is very much like a shark in that regards, never stopping, never resting. That’s were the simplicity pays off. It’s a bit like watching two hours of really cool YouTube videos loosely held together by the unifying theme of Keanu Reeves. The sequel is a bit more stylistic than the first, which does give it a bit more insubstantial, but it’s a sequel about a guy that shoots people. You don’t need a lot of defining moments.
The gunplay is filmed like a martial arts movie, with bullets replacing fists but the choreography being vitally important. If anything, it’s more over the top than the last film, which almost boggles the mind. Reeves is suited for a role like this, where the dialogue is minimal and the character is physically emotive. There are a few moments where you could almost see John Wick turn into Ted “Theodore” Logan, but they don’t distract too much.
It also helps that John Wick Redux looks amazing, and not just in the action, in the cinematography and set design. The final battle has a section that is basically an homage to Enter the Dragon’s mirror chamber fight, and yet it works without becoming a parody thanks to the controlled frenzy.
John Wick Chapter 2 doesn’t try to be too much. It knows what it is, it knows what it wants to be, and it executes it effectively. Pun intended. The film is meant to serve as a bridge from the previous, self-contained film to a bigger world. The Wickverse will continue – a third film has already been approved – and hopefully it avoids the seductive danger of going too far into the history of the world.
John Wick Conclusion review
Although not quite as refreshing in its simplicity as John Wick, the sequel is a visually impressive dance of violence that sets the stage for future iterations. In that, it’s somewhat ironic that thhe film is planning to expand, given that the movies both excel in simplicity and straightforwardness. Chapter 2 is a brutal action film that treats what could be horrific gore with a gleeful speed.
John Wick Chapter 2 stands on the shoulders of martial arts films, just with a bloodier result than most. The idea is the same though. It’s a visual experience with minimal interruptions from the plot, and in this case that’s a very good thing. Sometimes less is more, even when it is buoyed by extravagance.