After having starred in the action-packed John Wick in 2014, Keanu Reeves made his return to the genre in its sequel, John Wick: Chapter 2. The sequel was an entertaining action film featuring killing scenes that were well-choreographed and successfully scaled up in their level of intensity. With the announcement of the inevitable sequel, the obvious plaguing doubt was one of whether lightning could strike twice. Chapter 2 was a stylized, comprehensible action movie with beautiful visuals and an intriguing criminal world that did not overwhelm viewers.
The goals of any sequel should be to replicate what made the original so good, while expanding upon the world and the premise, justifying the need for the sequel’s existence in the first place. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, for example, while expanding J.K. Rowling’s world into New York in the 1920s, fell short when compared to the magic of the Harry Potter series, in both senses of the word. John Wick: Chapter 2 holds up against the original. Surprising as it is, the action movie sequel with around double the budget and much higher expectations was able to surpass its three-year predecessor. Reeve’s character is a hero of legend. He speaks few words while many are spoken of him. When his name is mentioned, it is enough to elicit fear in the hearts of all who might face his wrath. Wick does not kill for personal gain, but for vengeance and to be able to go home again.
The movie was also great for its visuals. Chromatically, it was one of purples and greens and blues and whites. It is clear that the cinematographers took the film’s appearance into consideration. The fights were comprehensible in the sense that shots were not cut repeatedly or filmed with a shaky camera. The cinematography was fluid and sustained, allowing the action to actually be seen. The film is aptly named. It is the second chapter in the story of Wick, a story that, in this sequel, proved it is deserving of further telling. All the praise given to the first chapter is due to the second chapter and then some. While the story initially moves to Rome, straight out of the playbook of a sequel bankrupt of new ideas, the sequel is far from stale. The plot is built around three big sequences of action, with smaller action and exposition peppered in between these large dramatic scenes. A few days after the events of the first movie, where Wick has his dog killed and his car stolen, triggering a vengeful rampage, Wick gets his car back.
The opening sequence mixes pre-existing knowledge with surprise and vehicular violence with non-vehicular violence, while acting as the pre-title stinger that brings all viewers up to speed. Upon his return home, Wick has an unexpected surprise. He has a debt and it is being called in by those to whom he is indebted. Part of the intrigue of the world of the first film was its society of assassins. Their hotel was The Continental, their currency was a mysterious gold coin and all of them knew “Mr. Wick.” The society had few known rules, chief among them the forced amnesty on hotel grounds. With the movie not rushing to reveal all the mystery of the society, a sustained interest was created. In the second film, one of the revelations is a system of no-questions-asked favors that can be owed between assassins. Wick owes a favor and he is forced to come out of retirement once more.
With a new movie sequel comes a new cast. Rapper Common plays the bodyguard of a target for Wick. The mutual respect between two combative is a trope that has still failed to feel boring. Their even match finally offers a struggle for Wick that raises the possibility that he could lose. A scene involving discretion toward public killing is particularly humorous. Laurence Fishburne is also in the movie. Though the marketing plays up his involvement as a reunion of The Matrix, his role ends up coming off half-baked. The real star of the newcomers is Ruby Rose. Her mute assassin, Ares, goes from crony to main villain with remarkable aplomb. The true brilliance of the film is in its ability to scale up. The first half plays out like a repeat of the first movie.
With all the classic benchmarks of a mediocre or repetitive sequel, the possibility of disappointment loomed large. Instead, the movie kept getting bigger and better. After the movie Alien, where a single alien was enough to challenge an entire ship, the sequel, Aliens, had protagonists with stronger weapons and more alien antagonists to match. There was escalation on both sides. John Wick: Chapter 2 has Wick getting more allies to help in his rampage, but he also has stronger people to fight. Common and Rose pose the threats of boss fights, but even the grunts become more skilled. With a hit put out on Wick, additional skilled assassins enter the fray, with intercut scenes of Wick desperately fighting the highly trained killers.
While complaints abound of Hollywood lazily churning out pointlessly unoriginal sequels and reboots, John Wick: Chapter 2 does anything but fit that bill. It expands the world, adding to the lore of The Continental. It is beautiful and action-packed. John Wick: Chapter 2 is a sequel with a purpose.