By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
In 2014, John Wick hit theaters and offered audiences incendiary action sequences with outstanding stunt work, along with imaginative and exciting world building. This formula makes the first installment a cool and badass action flick that earned a gleeful fan base. More of these same elements that make its predecessor great, in addition to an expansion of that universe, are the things that make Chapter 2 a thrilling, inventive, and in my opinion, a superior sequel that will leave its audiences wanting more and more. Writer Derek Kolstad, director Chad Stahelski and actor Keanu Reeves return and deliver another heaping serving of pulpy fiction and violence galore that will leave its new audiences and returning fans breathless and applauding.
This sequel picks up where the first one ends. Ex-hitman John Wick (Reeves) has just completed his mission of vengeance against the Russian gangsters responsible for the death of his dog and the theft of his beloved Mustang. After vigorously tying up one loose end, Wick hopes to quietly return to his retirement and completely abandon his previous life of violence. Things are not that simple, though. In seeking revenge, Wick breaks his blood vow to crime boss Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) and the mobster shows up on Wick’s doorstep to collect the bill. After initially refusing to honor his debt, Wick gets violently persuaded by Santino to accept one more hit assignment. In a desire to take her place at the “high table,” Santino requests the murder of his sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini), a high ranking crime leader who works and resides in Italy. Wick proceeds to carry out his mission in hopes of paying off his final debt and finally retiring in peace; however, what seems like a cut and dry assignment turns out to get more complicated than Wick desires.
Derek Kolstad and Chad Stahelski work wonders with John Wick: Chapter 2, presenting a richly developed sequel that thrills, entertains, occasionally shocks, and is certain to leave all of its audiences in awe. The filmmakers expand the Wick universe in bold and exciting ways, showing audiences more of the world where he lives and operates and more of the major players on a global level. Kolstad and Stahelski takes some risks by getting a little silly with a few of their ideas, but this factor, thankfully, never goes way too far. Without a doubt, their protagonist is a hardcore BAMF, but this movie shows what happens when he gets in over his head.
Once again, director Stahelski and his crew show exceptional skill when it comes to shooting, cutting and presenting the outstanding action sequences. The fight choreography is extraordinary and the stunt work is perfection. Thankfully, cinematographer Dan Laustsen and editor Evan Schiff know how to superbly capture the sheer brilliance and beauty of this work without the jarringly shaky, and often distracting camerawork that has become commonplace in action cinema. The fight scenes come across beautifully and brutally realistic, and the filmmakers want their audiences to behold the artistry and skill that went into them. Laustsen also presents some of the different locales and scenes gorgeously with beautiful contrasts between the dark and the light, and a lovely palette of vibrant colors in the mix. The look of this film actually rivals that of the first film.
The wonderful assortment of characters definitely enriches the world introduced in the previous movie also. The filmmakers have assembled an awesome collection of actors to play these delightful roles. Riccardo Scamarcio delivers a damn fine performance as villain Santino D’Antonio, a cold-hearted, but ambitious and methodical crime boss who wants to be Wick’s puppet master to acquire the power he desires. Claudia Gerrini offers an eloquent, sexy, and potent turn as Santino’s sister Gianna. Wick newcomers Ruby Rose, Common, Franco Nero, Peter Serafinowicz and Laurence Fishburne fill some interesting and fun roles in the movie, and returning actors Bridget Moynahan, Lance Reddick, John Leguizamo, and Ian McShane reprise their respective roles as competently as if they live as these characters.
However, it is Mr. Keanu Reeves that is the essential cast member, without whom, this movie just wouldn’t be the same. I would say that this film series’ protagonist will be the definitive role for Reeves, even more so than Neo from The Matrix Trilogy. It is a role that shows some of his best work as an actor and a stunt performer. It has been reported that Keanu did a great number of his character’s fight scenes and stunt work, and that commitment to the quality of the films is what makes him a cinematic treasure.
As I previously stated, this movie offers a gorgeous and delicious feast of pulp fiction and violence, but still leaves its audiences ravenous for more. The fans will have two great movies to keep their appetites temporarily sated until people get a their first glimpses at a Chapter 3. It is up to these fans to champion this movie and see it theatrically, so that those box office numbers literally demand that the next one gets made. If one truly loves this new installment, see it more than once. I know I plan to do this.