9/10 John Wick: Chapter 2 is awesome! Everybody go see it.
After John Wick (Keanu Reeves) returned from retirement as an assassin in the previous film, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) calls in an old favor from him. Wick is given a suicide mission he cannot refuse — and also one for which success means he’ll be hunted for the rest of his life.
The original, a surprise hit from October 2014 that all but begged for a followup, was hailed for its minimalism and realistic action, and Chapter 2 piles and piles and piles on more of the same.
The action in this movie is awesome, and there’s a ton of it. Mad Max: Fury Road is a decent if far superior comparable — both films excel for the same reasons.
The martial arts in the John Wick movies are blessed with a unique awkwardness that stops you from getting used to them, and it comes from the authenticity of how they were developed. All the stunts in these movies were designed around Reeves, who put months of training into each production. Wick’s sudden Judo style was tailored to him. Wick holds pistols close to his face at an awkward angle — because Reeves went through extensive marksmanship training and that’s how he holds pistols.
John Wick: Chapter 2 takes advantage of a fantastic action plot to thrust its fantastic action to the fore. While the first movie fell on stylized filler with Marilyn Manson to keep viewers from getting too bored, Chapter 2 is supersaturated with violence, to the point of becoming a detriment and back. The audience is boxed in with Wick as he tries to escape the cabal of assassins, but cannot.
As great as it is, parts of the movie do go overboard. Where it really comes out is the set design, which goes from garish-but-stylish to simply too hard to watch once we get to the hall of mirrors. The camerawork is admirable and I’m a sucker for neon, but once you can’t see the Judo flips, this movie looses all of its appeal.
It’s kind of a miracle that this all came together so well. The first movie was Chad Stahelski’s directorial debut after a long career as a stuntman, serving as Reeves’ double for The Matrix. That’s how Reeves became attached, and there aren’t many other actors around who could have an entire movie’s stunts designed around them like this.
Writer Derek Kolstad keeps the dialogue gracefully minimal, which leaves more time for action and enables the production to go with weaker actors like Common, Ruby Rose and even Reeves himself. Reeves is still doesn’t have much of a range, but has always had a reputation for extreme professionalism behind the scenes. He’s stumbled into a franchise with demands that only he can fill.
Sadly, there’s nothing to mitigate Laurence Fishburne’s enthusiastic overperformance.
John Wick: Chapter 2 took third place out of three new releases over Valentine’s Day weekend with $30.4 million, much better than expected for R-rated counterprogramming. It’s an encouraging haul for a production that was much more demanding than classmates Fifty Shades Darker and The Lego Batman Movie, and bodes well for Chapter 3, which was already being worked on months ago.
Leopold Knopp is a professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, syndicated columnist at the Lewisville Texan Journal and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.