Hot damn, do I love the “John Wick” movies! The series literally went from conception to “King of Action Films” in a ridiculously short span of time. To be fair, the action-movie landscape ain’t what it used to be. This isn’t the 1980s when heavyweights like Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Bruce Willis were in a three-way movie-murder spree to see who could be the world’s biggest star. Or the 1990s when Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal and Wesley Snipes were karate-chopping, roundhouse-kicking and trying to find new ways to remove a man’s head from his body. We were even fortunate in the late ‘90s and early 2000s to get a half-dozen decent Jackie Chan films.
But, woe, the action genre is an oft-forgotten landscape. The more ridiculous nature of some of the most bombastic and amazing action films has been weeded out, thanks to our cynical, metatextual society that refuses to take a one-man army bitch-slapping a battalion of killers (with nothing more than his strength of will and guns with unlimited ammo seriously). Like it’s predecessor, “John Wick: Chapter 2” succeeds exceptionally well by embracing the lunacy of a world populated by a nigh-indestructible former hit-man and a society of murderers for hire.
However, it never plays the out-there world it’s trying to create as camp.
A lot of “John Wick: Chapter 2” reminds me of “XXX: The Return of Xander Cage.” Both films have a lot of fun with the idea of a global network of killers, assassins and extreme roller skaters, fighting a shadow war on behalf of nations or the highest bidder. The “John Wick” universe adds a layer of polish to the proceedings. It’s a far more stylish story, which makes the outlandish elements more palatable.
John Wick (the immortal Keanu Reeves) returns as the world’s most likable murder machine. In the first movie, he lost his wife and dog. We meet John soon after seeking out the only other thing in the world he loves: his car. It’s a great opening and features everything wonderful about this world. Wick weaves through a dozen armed henchman and mows them down with a combination of bullets, beatdowns and a Buick. There’s a fantastic moment in this sequence where director Chad Stahelski displays his superior action filmmaking chops—a shot frozen on the face of the head scumbag as he hears gunshots echoing in the warehouse around him. It’s like something out of a great horror movie and is such an effective way of selling John Wick as a menacing force of nature.
After getting back what’s left of his car, John once again decides life of a killer-for-hire is probably best left in the past. That plan goes to shit when he’s visited by an old business associate who forces him into service. It’s a no-win situation for Wick. If he refuses the offer, he ends up being hunted. If he takes the contract and completes it, he’ll end up being hunted. He decides to complete the order in spite of the consequences, but a double-cross lands him being the most wanted man in the world. The only way to exact revenge is a transatlantic gauntlet of violence that would make even the most hardened man wince.
There isn’t a lot to the story. It’s a traditional revenge scenario, but there’s so much flair. The world is brimming with interesting characters, played by such game talent. Ian McShane and Laurence Fishburne go toe-to-toe for the most flamboyantly marvelous portrayal of a criminal kingpin. Everyone in this movie seems to be having so much fun—except for Keanu Reeves, who wears every punch, knife wound and bullet on his sullen, determined face. But the real star of “John Wick: Chapter 2” is the mind-blowing action sequences which buck the current shaky-cam trend in favor of fluid, long takes featuring an impressive combination of fistfighting and gunplay.
“John Wick: Chapter 2” is the perfect sequel. The movie builds on the successes of the original and finds some new territory to explore. Sure, the story is just another excuse to get John Wick on an epic killing spree, but all of it is done with such finesse. Action movies should all aspire to be this good.