Movie Review: John Wick – Chapter 2

John Wick: Chapter 2 is a worthy follow-up to the original with its well choreographed stunt work, stylish action sequences, comic book styled narrative, and solid performance from Keanu Reeves, building a memorable franchise that’s more than just a typical shoot’em up property.

Legendary hitman John Wick is forced to back out of retirement by a former associate plotting to seize control of a shadowy international assassins’ guild. Bound by a blood oath to help him, John travels to Rome where he squares off against some of the world’s deadliest killers.

On paper John Wick sounds like a B-movie, but thanks to the people behind it who made the effort to do more with the material, we get some direly needed bloody fun.

John Wick: Chapter 2, in a rare occurrence, proves to be a very entertaining sequel that deftly builds upon the original. Using creative visuals and expanding its scale, this follow-up is enjoyable for both fans and new audiences.

We get to see more and beyond The Continental. Chapter 2 offers more film locations, creating a fully realized world that was wisely hinted at in the first installment. The script doesn’t stuff us with information in one sitting that action movies tend to do to get it out of way. Instead it lets the plot show us more about its inner workings.

The cinematography and production design elevates this cliched backdrop. The world of assassins has an old world design that contrasts with hypermodern action set pieces that Nicolas Winding Refn would appreciate. Here, assassins use a network that combines old school telephone systems with modern communication to disseminate information. Later on, a shootout in the catacombs leads to a subway platform with white walls and subtle neon lines. Intense colors and lighting contrasts elevate action sequences which, as evidenced by the the stylized captions, are executed to give a comic book narrative style.

The fight scenes are blunt, consistent, and colorful, giving the John Wick franchise its own flair. Camerawork and wide angle shots create a perceptible sense of intensity. The movie borrows from the Hong Kong style where fight scenes are more like a violent dance, instead of the smash and bash that you often see in big budget Hollywood action films. While Jason Bourne capitalizes on his surroundings and James Bond relies on gadgets, John Wick uses his enemy’s weapons against them in decisive hits.

Keanu Reeves’ fits well into the character albeit his limited range and unmistakable mannerisms. He isn’t a bulked up weathered leather that marks a typical American action veteran, but his youthful looks doesn’t make vulnerable moments look silly and his lithe frame helped in creating precise fight choreography. Don’t worry his character isn’t too mopey though as Reeves’ introverted self translates into a lone wolf that is enjoying the hunt more than he’s willing to admit, lending some deadpan humor to the violent proceedings.

The movie extends its comic book styled narrative to quirky characters that complement Wick’s superhuman endurance. They’re functional figures to the plot, but each are given a distinctive aspect that makes them more than just disposable characters. The Bowery King and his secret subway Kingdom, Ares and her perpetually calm focus, and Winston as a father figure of sorts to Wick hint of an untold personal journey. The cast chews up the scenery, but does so in interesting ways.

When the story culminates into a thrilling showdown in a one part mirrored art installation and one part maze, its a satisfying finish and a look into a cool world that manages to surpass its B-movie trappings.

Chapter 2 expands on the simplest B-movie elements imaginable that the first movie used – a mythical now recluse legend who keeps getting sucked into a life that he left for the love he lost. In fact, everything in this movie is a genre cliche.

Still, by balancing action with lean plotting and using creative ideas with technical flair, John Wick: Chapter 2 is as much of a highly entertaining shoot’em flick as its predecessor and even better. It’s a B-movie with an A-list treatment and it never claimed to be anything else in the first place.

John Wick is shaping up to be a solid action franchise that knows what its supposed to do and executes its minimalistic elements with aplomb. John Wick: Chapter 2 ends with a beginning to a trilogy, and again in a rare occurrence, makes us look forward to what it has to offer.

My Rating: 8/10


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