I feel there’s a great deal of irony that it took a couple of stunt men to get the formula right for an R rated action film. I mean, you either alienate your audience with going to heavy with the gore or bore the hell out of them with going to heavy on story. But when action directors and stunt men Chad Stahelski and David Leitch came on to direct John Wick they made the violence part of the story. John Wick shooting 77 (trust me, I counted) people in the face was the personification of his rage at being robbed of being able to properly grieve for the loss of his wife.
John Wick brought in 3 times more than it cost to make because it was a breath of fresh air, had a great story, acting and action. And to the credit of the returning director, Chad Stahelski, John Wick: Chapter 2 delivers on what made the first film so great – well almost.
Chapter 2 is set a couple of weeks after the events of the original film and see’s Keanu Reeves being forced back into his suit when Riccardo Scamarcio’s Santino D’Antonio comes calling to collect on the marker Wick made with him that allowed Wick to leave this world. And right here is the biggest problem with the sequel. In, what I’ll called Chapter 1 for brevity’s sake, John had a clear arc and journey as a character that I could get behind. Chapter 2 sees Wick going on an arc that is far less… multi dimensional. To the point where Reeves is given very few times to truly show why he’s got a cult following. That being said, the climax of this movie is intense and absolutely perfect for the story and where Wick needs to be.
Stahelski keeps pushing the style he co-created as much as he does the action. Wick comes with a distinct style that, may not be bigger, is smartly broader. And still every bit as fun to watch as the original. Reeves and Stahelski are surprisingly adapt at making people being shot in the head damn entertaining.
For what he’s given, Reeves kills it – pun intended. It’s difficult for any actor to create a character with few words. But Reeves’s made a career from this and he truly embraces this with Wick in Chapter 2. Wick had no real equal in Chapter 1, this time around – he’s got Common in his way in the role of fellow assassin, Cassian. Common brings a passion to his roles, and that comes out in a truly believable hatred for Wick. To the credit of the filmmakers, Common shows off what Stahelski really did well with Chapter 2 – the hand to hand. If Chapter 1 can be known for anything, it’s that John Wick is really good at shooting people. In Chapter 2, he’s just good at killing people period. Cassian and Wick go through some pretty epic hand to hand that is brutal in the moves as much as it is shot. Stahelski may be shooting this film in the stylized version of reality. But his action is always clear and easy to follow.
Few people in North America will know Riccardo Scamarcio. But walking into film very much with the air of Kiwi actor Marton Csokas – people will soon know his name. Seriously, the man looks and sounds exactly like an Italian Marton Csokas. Riccardo plays Santino D’Antonio, born into criminal royalty in this world John Wick plays in. Scamarcio plays it with a slime that is genuinely enjoyable to hate. He plays well against Reeves, despite being pretty long winded at times – only makes you hate him more. Funny enough, his best scene was against Reeves, but when D’Antonio tries to threaten a returning Ian McShane’s Winston. He plays his part in the Wick franchise well – which is explaining how things work in this world – but I was beyond happy to see McShane given more to play with. Anyone familiar with McShane knows that it’s never a good thing to try and threaten him. And he continues to play to that legend.
The few other disappointments in this film centre around Lawrence Fishburne and Ruby Rose. Fishburne, played up in the trailers, is far more of a cameo and never truly used well in this story. Fishburne comes in as the guy who owns the place. Even against someone like John Wick, Fishburne drips confidence. But, the biggest problem with Fishburne, and this film, is how truly unsatisfied a lot of the aspects of this film are. And it comes down to them setting up the third film with a story that truly needs three parts.
Chapter 1 was never meant to have a sequel. The story was too well rounded for that. And the story for Chapter 2 is suffering because setting the story for characters to be played out in Chapter 3 is taking from the story they need to tell in Chapter 2. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen the ending of the second Hobbit movie.
Which brings us to Ruby Rose, the mute enforcer of D’Antonio who doesn’t get the screen time to become the threat she truly needs to be. Any threat she was becoming was taken away by the fact there are so many assassins in this film trying to kill John Wick. Again, because this movie is serving as the introduction to this world that Chapter 1 should have done if they had planned for the obvious trilogy. But, for what time she gets, Rose uses well, but I just didn’t care when she died.
But here’s the thing, Chad Stahelski knows action movies – he’s spent nearly his entire career getting shot in them. And that comes across in Chapter 2. Because it is a lot of fun when this film goes off – and it goes off a lot. John Wick: Chapter 2 is well worth 3.5 stars out of 5 because it delivers exactly what it says on the tin – Keanu Reeves killing people for an hour and a half. One could only imagine how good this film would have been if they had planned for the trilogy since day one of the original film. But what you have is a film that knows what it is. An incredibly visceral, incredible fun film that R rated action films still have a place in this world.