Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Premise: A sequel to the 2014 film. Former professional killer John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is persuaded to take an assassination job to satisfy an old debt. He subsequently becomes the target of various factions of gangsters and assassins.
What Works: Action films are uniquely suited to give moviemakers a chance to do interesting things with the cinematic form. Because filmmaking is primarily about movement and the juxtaposition of one moving image with another, action films offer a chance for filmmakers to show off their craft. 2014’s John Wick was an excellent example of that and as a piece of action cinema, John Wick: Chapter 2 exceeds its predecessor. This movie has a steady stream of set pieces that are each unique and impressive in their own way. Despite the amount of action in this movie, it never feels redundant and each set piece has its own distinct look and feel. Especially notable is the car chase and fight scene that opens the picture, which is as masterfully choreographed as a dance number in a musical, and the hall of mirrors shootout in the finale which has stunning use of light and color. For those who appreciate the way a movie is made, John Wick: Chapter 2 has a lot in it that impresses and among action films it bears comparison to The Raid: Redemption and The Bourne Ultimatum. However, the filmmakers don’t just show off their craft in the set pieces. The whole film is choreographed, shot, and assembled in a way that is economical without sacrificing the intelligibility of the story and John Wick: Chapter 2 maintains its energy even when the film isn’t in the midst of a gun fight. One of the impressive aspects of the John Wick series is the world it has created. Without stopping to explain everything, the films present an entire economy of assassins complete with its own currency and rules of decorum. John Wick: Chapter 2 takes the audience deeper into that world and it gives the film an additional edge. The economic background of the film deepens some of the action and story developments and allows John Wick: Chapter 2 to be a little more complex than the average shoot-’em-up adventure. Actor Keanu Reeves returns to the title role and again he’s good in the part. Reeves is a limited actor but there is a narrow range of roles that he does well and John Wick fits perfectly into Reeves’ skill set.
What Doesn’t: One of the strengths of the original John Wick was the way it built up sympathy for the title character. The film opened with Wick burying his wife, who had inspired him to abandon his lucrative criminal career, and thereafter he gets robbed with his car stolen and his dog killed. Although it was far from subtle, the opening was very effective in creating a pathos appeal and imbuing the subsequent violence with a sense of justice. The premise of John Wick: Chapter 2 isn’t as strong as the first film. There is an ethical dimension to the conflict but it isn’t as impactful and the second movie does not have the emotional momentum that drove the first film. John Wick: Chapter 2 escalates the kill count and expands the scope from the previous movie but it also becomes more implausible. In several instances, Wick gets shot and stabbed but he keeps moving despite injuries that would incapacitate anyone else, including the many hired thugs of this movie. There’s also apparently no police in the world of John Wick. Despite a great deal of the action taking place in New York City, one of the most policed locales in the country, law enforcement never shows up. But the absence of law enforcement and John Wick’s apparently superhuman ability to repair himself probably shouldn’t be taken too seriously. These qualities are within the norms of a movie like this and part of what makes it fun.
Bottom Line: John Wick: Chapter 2 is not a deep or insightful movie but it is cool. The film is an excellent piece of action cinema that is terrifically crafted and very entertaining.
Episode: #635 (February 19, 2017)