Nobody quite saw the first John Wick coming if you remember. Built off the success of films such as Taken, which took a recognised face and made him an action legend, Chad Stahelski took a former action legend in Keanu Reeves and reminded everyone why he was once Neo, the coolest cat in the genre. Wick revitalised his career by gifting him a character riven with mythic semblance, wrapped up in a brutal mixture of hard-hitting close combat action and a gloomy, modern revenge Western. Chapter 2, a sequel which didn’t even technically need to exist given the simple narrative and thematic resonance of the original, does what every good follow up should; it builds on the foundations, elevating Wick truly into an archetypal anti-hero while constructing a world around him made up of rules, meanings and a graceful, stately sense of mythology behind the balletic action stylistics. The net result is a film which may not simply be one of the greatest action movie sequels in history, but one of the greatest *sequels* ever made. Period.
Stahelski absolutely takes a cue from the other two most recent stunning action pictures, The Raid and specifically The Raid 2, which managed to fuse hard-hitting, stylised action sequences with a building, tense sense of storytelling. Chapter 2 manages to go a step further than even Gareth Evans’ supreme movies could, thanks to how well Stahelski’s script manages to mythologise John Wick as a character. From the first action sequence where Wick ties up a loose connective thread to the villains from the original movie, everything about his world is broadened.
We discover Wick operated in and managed to briefly leave behind, a perversely dignified world of worldwide organised crime and international assassins who operate much like a grand, ancient cabal, with rules and systems and codes of twisted honour. It’s fascinating and labyrinthian and filled with a mythological depth which lends serious gravitas to the pulpy proceedings, especially when character actors like Ian McShane, Franco Nero & Laurence Fishburne (wonderfully reunited with his Matrix co-star at last) show up to chew the scenery. Stahelski is unafraid to establish and linger in this world before giving way to a series of stunning, bravura action sequences.
Here’s the thing about Chapter 2 – to some degree it’s kind of one *long* action sequence, with a few stops for breath to engage the remarkably slim narrative which propels the film along. Stahelski revels in throwing Wick into protracted takedown sequences involving an array of weaponry, close quarter combat, and explosives, often set in glorious and grandiose settings such as the catacombs of Rome or shimmering, reflective New York museum exhibits. It’s a picture of dark colour, neon set against the hue of an elegant world, and it’s unafraid to fuse the two as Wick engages his brutal quest first to settle a code and ultimately to exact vengeance.
Reeves is magnetic, lending a slow drawl to what relatively few lines he does get, but always convincing you he is ‘the Boogeyman’ as numerous bad guys refer to him; he’s lethal and ruthless and utterly committed in the role, yet he still manages to convey a sense of decency despite the fact he kills more men in this one film than James Bond probably has in twenty. This sequel has some of that franchise’s cold glamour (certainly in the latest pictures) while retaining The Raid series brutality. Seriously, Stahelski doesn’t pull his punches. Literally. There are at least a dozen times you will wince at the way Wick takes down the wave of goons thrown at him. It’s exciting and, at times, utterly vicious.
The net result is one of the greatest sequels we’ve yet seen in cinema. A big and bold statement, admittedly, but do not underestimate the importance of a film like John Wick: Chapter 2 to action movies especially. Much like the two Raid pictures, Bourne at his best, and the recent critical successes of Bond, Chad Stahelski manages to combine the most thrilling and truly pulse-pounding visuals committed to celluloid in some time next to a mythic performance by Keanu Reeves and a script which, while basic in terms of narrative, is pared back and filled with archetypal symbolism and depth. It’s action at its best with grace, brains and the scope, absolutely, for more. John Wick cements himself with this sequel as our newest, legendary character in the action genre.
★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2
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