Yeah, I’m thinking he’s back.
After racking up a phenomenal body count in 2014’s original film, Keanu Reeves is back in action as John Wick, the tormented yet unstoppable hitman. The movie was one of the best American action films of the past decade, and as soon as a sequel was announced I couldn’t have been more excited.
That sequel is finally here and it was worth the wait. In addition to being every bit as good as its predecessor, I would venture to say that John Wick Chapter 2 is one of the best action movies ever made, an instant classic that puts most modern action movies to shame.
What makes it so great? Let’s start with the main actor: Keanu Reeves. The man is an absolute beast. Reeves trained extensively to play John Wick, in the special features of the first movie, the producers and trainers said that Keanu trained eight hours a day, five days a week, in weapons, martial arts, and stunt driving, for months. The dude is committed. When you see John Wick in action, you’re seeing the results of Keanu’s dedication, and it looks fantastic.
Much like its predecessor, John Wick Chapter 2 is a testament to good old-fashioned filmmaking ingenuity. Minimal CGI, lots of close-quarters combat, top-notch fight choreography, and daredevil stunt work, all filmed in-camera, with fluid camera movement and smooth editing, to ensure that the viewer is able to follow the fast-paced action. The first movie was directed by veteran stuntmen Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, and Stahelski goes solo for the sequel. He absolutely nails it, in many ways outdoing the excellent work he and Leitch did in the original.
And don’t worry, dog-lovers: despite the tragic fate of the adorable puppy from the first movie, no cute doggies are harmed in the sequel. Yes, John has the same dog he got at the conclusion of the first movie, but by the end of the second movie the sweet pooch is alive and well, and quite possibly the only friend John has in the world. The movie’s ending sets the stage for an epic continuation of the series, and Stahelski has stated that a third film is in the works. I can’t wait.
But if his dog is alive and well, then what brings John back into the fold this time? It turns out that John owes a blood debt to a former associate, a slick fellow by the name of Santino D’Antonio. Santino gives John a seemingly impossible task, after which he will consider the debt paid. John is reluctant to comply with Santino’s request, but after some persuasion (Santino blows up his house), he accepts. Fulfilling Santino’s mission will have far-reaching consequences, something John is fully aware of. But he goes through with it, and when Santino inevitably stabs him in the back, every hitman in the country ends up gunning for him.
One of the most intriguing things about the story of the first movie was the glimpse into the assassin underworld which John was so desperate to escape from. There was the Continental Hotel, which catered to assassins, and the gold coins which served as currency. Chapter 2 shows us that this underworld is much more far-reaching than what we saw in the original film, and feels like a logical extension of the first film’s mythology.
John Wick 2 is also surprisingly funny. There’s a rich vein of twisted humor that runs throughout the film, and I loved it. The Continental Hotel has strict rules, foremost among them that no business will be conducted on company grounds. So when John and a henchman, locked in an epic battle that has already taken them down several seemingly endless flights of stairs, end up crashing through a window into the lobby of the hotel, they are scolded by the manager and told to go have a few drinks at the bar together to calm themselves down. The sommelier at the hotel specializes in high-end weaponry, and talks about guns in the way wine connoisseurs would talk about fine wine. And the movie’s biggest laugh comes when the manager of the Italian branch of the Continental (played by Franco Nero, who reminds me a lot of The Most Interesting Man in the World from those Dos Equis commercials) asks John if he’s there for the Pope.
There’s also a badass and somewhat hilarious sequence where John fights countless assassins through the streets and subways of New York and it seems like the poor guy can’t go more than a few feet without somebody trying to whack him. He even gets to take out a couple of guys with a pencil. There’s a slyly funny bit during this sequence where John and an assassin exchange silenced gunfire while bystanders remain oblivious. John Wick is a human wrecking ball who kills his way through two movies, and if the ending of the second movie is any indication, John will have a lot more killing to do before his story is over.
But as unstoppable as John is, he’s not invulnerable. He gets shot, stabbed and hit by cars multiple times, and spends a substantial portion of both films limping and stumbling in pain. But the fact that he gets hurt only makes him even more badass, since he picks himself up and keeps on bringing the pain. The other extraordinary thing about these movies is that, as heightened as its world and its characters are, there’s nothing in either film that is completely impossible for an actual human being to accomplish.
Another thing I love about both of these movies is the visuals. For the sequel, director Chad Stahelski has found all sorts of creative locations to stage epic gun battles. From a hazily lit tunnel in Rome to a subway in which the walls and ceilings are bright white (allowing for vivid red bursts of blood) and a stunning finale in an art exhibition full of mirrors and neon lights, the action scenes are some of the best ever put on screen. Both films are destined to become legendary for action fans.
John Wick 2 is a beautiful, brutal movie, one which is not for the faint of heart. The violence is lightning-quick and relentless, leaving its protagonist and its audience no time to breathe. There are some truly brutal kills here (such as John’s aforementioned pencil trick) which are all filmed unflinchingly.
And throughout the mayhem, there is Keanu Fricking Reeves, who moves with such balletic grace that it gives the violent action a genuine sense of beauty. But aside from Reeves’ stunning physical performance, he’s playing a character with a surprising amount of depth. John Wick is a man without a place in the world. His wife offered him an escape from his violent life, and with her death, his life quickly spirals into chaos. At the end of the sequel, he is more alone than ever. Keanu doesn’t have a great deal of dialogue in either movie, but his physicality and the way he reacts to the world around him speak volumes about the kind of life he has lived.
I saw this movie in a theater that was at least three-quarters full, which just warmed my heart. It showed that not only did the first movie have a lot of fans, but that there is still an audience for hardcore R-rated action films. Movie studios seem to be realizing that people will still see R-rated action movies, if the success of Deadpool last year and the R rating of the upcoming third Wolverine movie are any indication. This makes me quite happy, since it shows that there is still a place in the world for the violent action movies I love.
I had a blast with John Wick 2. It was everything an action sequel should be. I really hope it doesn’t take three years for John Wick 3 to come out, because I don’t know if I can wait that long.