Film Review: John Wick Chapter 2

Double-crossed hit man becomes the target of every assassin in the world. Sequel delivers the goods, minus some surprise.
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Released without much support in 2014, John Wick evolved from cult B-movie to modest box-office hit, prompting this ambitious sequel. Operating on a larger canvas but sticking with the original's maniacal focus, John Wick Chapter 2 gives action fans exactly what they want.

The first John Wick succeeded in part because it dropped all the stuff that drags down thrillers. Extras like plot, characterization, motive, relationships. John Wick was stripped down to only the good parts, mostly crisply choreographed and endlessly inventive mayhem.

Chapter 2 suffers a bit from sequelitis. It takes itself too seriously, shows off its bigger budget with fancy sets and gadgets, and takes too long to get going. Once it settles in, however, the movie is all hurtling adrenaline and testosterone.

The John Wick character brought about a career resurgence for Keanu Reeves, giving him a older, grittier and more physical version of his Matrix role. Tight-lipped, operating on instinct, remorselessly brutal and efficient, he is the kind of stylish, cold-blooded assassin that John Woo and Chow Yun Fat immortalized in The Killer.

As in The Killer, what plot emerges in Chapter 2 deals with honor among assassins, and how a code of ethics keeps an international network of killers in line. Break a rule, as Wick does when he fails to honor his marker to Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), and face instant retaliation.

With a multimillion-dollar contract on his head, Wick has to do Santino's bidding and murder his sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini) in Rome. Using a network of catacombs, Wick finds her at a sleazy rave, surrounded by dozens of security agents and personal bodyguard Cassian (an unexpectedly physical Common).

Here's where all the setup and exposition finally pay off. Wick methodically mows down opponent after opponent, using a variety of guns, knives, straps, kicks and punches. The battles expand and contract, in crowds and through tunnels, until it's just Wick and Cassian pummeling each other on a cobblestone street.

Working with an expert stunt crew, director Chad Stahelski assembles action sequences that build explosive force and focus. The genius behind his approach in both films is to depict violence without sadism. The scores of deaths in Chapter 2 are furious and shocking, but not cruel.

Stahelski knows his film history. Along with Woo's The Killer, the movie alludes to everything from Orson Welles's Lady from Shanghai to The Matrix (where Stahelski was Reeves' stunt double). He and stunt coordinator Darrin Prescott have come up with dauntingly precise, acrobatic moves, yet still give their action a wild, improvisatory feel.

Opponents slip, trip, miss their punches, drop their weapons, and in one notable sequence fall down several flights of stairs. Wick is repeatedly surprised, ambushed, and runs out of ammo at the worst possible moments. His dogged endurance, his ability to improvise and his relentless forward motion all help lift his character and this movie out of the action-genre ghetto.

What a gangster calls Wick's "focus, commitment and sheer effing will" applies equally to Stahelski and the rest of the crew behind John Wick Chapter 2.

Click here for cast and crew information.