Even having seen and thoroughly enjoyed John Wick, one cannot help but feel like “the surprise factor” played an important part in why it became an instant cult classic (or whatever the equivalent to cult classic is in this day and age) as soon as it did.By the fall of 2014, superhero movies and oversized blockbusters had saturated the market, and we were ready for a streamlined and lower scale action movie. Keanu Reeves had been starring in nothing but stinkers for a while, and was ready for a comeback. It was a perfect combination of exactly what we needed, made even better by the fact that the movie seemed to come out of nowhere. It makes sense, then, that the great fear with John Wick: Chapter 2 was whether it could live up to the freshness of the original. Those in doubt should rest assured that Chapter 2 doesn’t only live up to its predecessor, it surpasses it.
If there was one thing that was going to be hard to replicate in a John Wick sequel, it’s the simplicity of the original’s plot. And it’s true that Chapter 2 cannot come up with a hook as simple and divine as the first movie’s. In case you don’t remember or haven’t seen John Wick, the movie can be summarized thusly: Some ruffians kill John Wick’s dog, and John Wick takes revenge. It’s the plot equivalent of perfectly designed minimalist chair, clean, to the point, and beautiful. The plot of Chapter 2 is much messier, beginning with an action sequence designed to tie loose ends from the previous chapter and then going in circles for a while before finally revealing what it had been building towards. It’s a minor weakness that the movie manages to survive intact, particularly because the payoff is worth it. John Wick Chapter 2 is good throughout, but the movie’s second half is something else.
John Wick presented us with a fantasy world in which assassins use their own currency (some sort of old golden coins) and stay in a private hotel for criminals. The attention paid to crafting a unique not-quite-realistic world was indicative of a meticulously crafted movie. John Wick Chapter 2 takes the world sketched out by the first movie, and blows it up to epic proportions. We are no longer in a not-quite-realistic world, we are in the deep end of movie world. This is a movie so confident in its abilities it isn’t afraid of going big, or indulging in the ridiculous. The ridiculous is actually what makes it so great.
The first thing we see in the movie is a Buster Keaton silent being projected onto the wall of a building. The movie announces the fact that it’s taken its cues from the silent masters of physical comedy, and it doesn’t disappoint. From there, we quickly cut to a long chase sequence. John Wick drives like a maniac through the streets of New York. He is looking for the precious vintage muscle car that was stolen from him in the last movie. It doesn’t take him long to find the car and make an escape, but he is followed by a series of henchmen, who all ride in taxi cabs. This is when, as they say, shit gets real. John Wick fights off the henchmen, but once he’s dispatched them, two more taxi cabs pull over and another bunch of henchmen walk out to fight. Cabs keep pulling up and John Wick keeps dispatching henchmen for a long time. The amount of cabs that pull up in that sequence and the amount of people who are run over by them is excessive and ridiculous. It is also very cool.
That’s just the first example of the kind of cards John Wick: Chapter Two has up its sleeve. Its action sequences are long and indulgent and they are better off for it. The moment when Keanu and Common keep falling down a seemingly endless staircase, the big finale shootout inside what is essentially a hall of mirrors, and particularly the scene in which John Wick has to escape literally every assassin in New York City are all set pieces for the ages. Chapter 2 might not be as tightly plotted and consistent as its predecessor, but it aims for higher heights. It shoots for the stars, and damn it, it succeeds.
Grade: 9 out of 10