The Russell Review: John Wick: Chapter 2

Minor spoilers ahead. Consider yourself warned!

Few words in Hollywood bring up mixed feelings as much as “sequel.” It tends to bring up a feeling of hesitance from critics and audiences alike. Even though fantastic sequels like The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather Part II, and The Dark Knight exist, there’s also Speed 2: Cruise Control, Taken 2, and The Exorcist 2. Will the movie up the ante and stakes of the first? Will it just retread familiar plot points? Will the villain be as good in the sequel?

Keanu Reeves as John Wick in John Wick: Chapter 2 picture credit: http://www.indiewire.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/wickbar.jpg

I was certainly hesitant about John Wick: Chapter 2. When the original movie was announced, I didn’t pay too much attention to it until it began to garner a lot of buzz. John Wick really turned out to be a surprise action film that gained a cult following rather quickly. I didn’t believe that the team could strike gold twice, but John Wick: Chapter 2 elevates the franchise and turns the intensity up without making a mess in the process.

The acting isn’t expected to be stellar in a movie such as this. Its reverence of the R-rated action movies of the 80s comes with the campy acting of that particular era. There were still moments where I couldn’t help but chuckle at the absurdity of a line of dialogue or the awkward delivery of it. While Keanu Reeves plays a tired hitman who wants to retire in peace quite sufficiently, there won’t be any talk of revolutionary acting from any other actors in this movie. Even the sexy and fiery Ruby Rose is under-utilized. Playing the deaf-mute henchman Ares, she never really becomes anything more than another obstacle for Wick to knock out of the way. One of the few exhilarating parts, as far as dialogue goes, was a Matrix reunion between Reeves and Laurence Fishburne, who is famous for playing Morpheus in the classic sci-fi series. It’s exciting to see these two together on screen again, even if Fishburne’s “Bowery King” is nothing more than a glorified cameo.

 

Laurence Fishburne as the “Bowery King” in John Wick: Chapter 2. Picture Credit: https://kpbs.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/photos/2017/02/10/img03_t800.jpg?90232451fbcadccc64a17de7521d859a8f88077d

Where the original John Wick was a more personal story of the titular character getting revenge on some Russian punks who killed his dog and stole his car, Chapter 2 widens the scope significantly. The sequel expands on the underground assassin community introduced in the first movie, seeing Wick go international as he is forced back into a life he was ready to leave behind. This society of hitmen was one of the most intriguing parts of the first movie for me, and it was exciting to see it expanded on in such a grandiose way, showing the rules, respect, and professionalism involved. By the time Ian Mcshane’s character Winston, who appears to be the leader of this organization, is having parting words with Wick before he runs off for some obvious sequel bait, I find myself wanting to dig deep into this mythology.

I thought that John Wick was an insane, high-octane adventure fueled by revenge and gunpowder, but Chapter 2 pushes it into almost ridiculous heights. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I couldn’t keep track of the body count after the first 15 minutes, and I don’t necessarily consider that a bad thing. One particular standout moment is when Wick is walking through a subway station, his rival Cassian (a well-played role by rapper-turned-actor Common, who is looking for vengeance against the man who stole something he loved) walking on the second story of the same station. They’re both walking through this busy station, stealthily shooting at each other with silenced pistols as innocent bystanders remain none the wiser. While this may not be an extremely adrenaline-fueled moment, it is a unique sequence that I can’t say I’ve ever seen before.

The important part now is that the studio behind the John Wick series doesn’t overdo it and create a franchise of gradually diminishing sequels, but it seems clear that a third movie is coming to wrap up plot points left unwrapped in John Wick: Chapter 2. Wick just wants to retire, and I say that it’s almost time that we let him.

Pros

  • Keanu Reeves
  • Matrix reunion
  • Insane action and gun choreography

Cons

  • Some underutilized villains
  • Stilted dialogue

I give John Wick: Chapter 2 a 7/10