Sequels tend to go the easy route, inflating the stakes and budget of the previous film and simply rehashing what already happened. Great sequels understand why we were drawn to the story and characters in the first place and push the narrative and possibilities within to the next stage of the character’s journey. It’s fitting that Keanu Reeves’ second thriller as John Wick has Chapter Two in the title, as this is follow-up isn’t a lazy remake of the 2014 original but a creative step up. We’re only two months into 2017 and here we have two major big surprises: M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film is a well-liked blockbuster and, get this, John Wick: Chapter Two is terrific.
Wick has returned to where we first met him–seeking a normal, quiet life, removed from his dark legacy as a legendary killer-for-hire. He’s still grieving his late wife and lives alone with a new dog. A former colleague reappears, reminds Wick that he owes him a debt and forces him out of retirement. Wick once again struggles to keep his humanity intact, while dispatching scores of enemies and struggles to eliminate the core threat against him.
This exciting, jumbo-sized action movie is as lean, focused and take-no-prisoners as its title character. While the momentum lags towards the end and the wall-to-wall decathlon of ultra-violence on display can get exhausting, the best sequences (of which there are many) are truly sublime. It’s all a bit much, though no action fan will walk away unsatisfied. Former stunt man turned director Chad Stahelski returns and makes this tale uncommonly beautiful (particularly for the genre) and full of iconic imagery. The action is straight-forward, almost non-stop and staged like a grisly ballet, filmed with a playful stylishness at every opportunity.
Reeves is better here than in any of his Matrix films. I liked his character and believed in him, too. In his first introductory moment, we immediately see how Wick’s tortured existence is in the service of his extraordinary abilities. While the focus is on the action, this is still an actor’s movie. Ian McShane offers his considerable presence as the king of the hit man underworld and Reeve’s former Matrix co-star Laurence Fishburne has a welcome, colorful cameo role. Claudia Gerini plays the sister of Wick’s nemesis and gives a haunting performance; her one scene with Reeves could have come across as mean-spirited but winds up breathtaking, in the way it’s performed and written. Recent Oscar winner Common plays Wick’s professional rival and engages in a couple of amazing fight scenes with Reeves.
It seems I wind up defending Reeves every time I review one of his movies. Yes, he is an actor of limited abilities and has been wooden when miscast. It’s unfortunate that his most widely seen movies include The Matrix trilogy, Speed, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Constantine and Point Break–all great but featuring the actor giving stiff performances. On the other hand, check him out in Devil’s Advocate, Sam Raimi’s The Gift, Something’s Gotta Give, My Own Private Idaho or The Last Time I Committed Suicide, where he’s terrific. In comedies like Parenthood and the Bill and Ted movies, he he’s sharp and hilarious. There I go again, stumping for Reeves.
As action movie roles go, Reeves has found his Jason Bourne, as Wick is also a man of few words but has the grace and agility of a dancer when he’s in motion. Wick is the Gene Kelly of assassins and Reeves is always up to the film’s considerable physical demands.