By Hanajun Chung
Two things are needed to make a sequel to “John Wick” work: more stylish action and more world-building.
And like John himself, the filmmakers execute effortlessly.
Chad Stahelski returns to direct, bringing back Keanu Reeves, picking off right after the first film’s conclusion: John’s little quest for vengeance doesn’t end with a calm, peaceful resolution. The criminal underworld learns of his return, prompting old associates to collect a blood debt.
Both “John Wick” films get a lot of mileage in the little details found in the world-building elements. Costumes, wardrobe, props, and even the sets all serve to realize this ostentatious other world of criminals that treat their profession less like a secret society and more like a country club, one that has multiple locations worldwide.
“Chapter 2” goes deeper in that realm. Big bulky kevlar is replaced with custom, designer-jacket lining, while bricks of cash are replaced with bullions marked with skulls. The design and aesthetics are contastly working together. Scene after scene, there’s always something at the very least interesting happening visually. “Chapter 2” is a gorgeous film.
But the action is the ultimate price of admission. The film opens with a 10-minute sequence where the filmmakers reassure audiences of their affection to the genre and craft. There’s clarity, style, inventiveness and great character moments while people are getting punched, stabbed, shot and thrown around. John doesn’t have it as easy as he did in the first film, and how that’s conveyed through action is constantly entertaining.
And it must be said that Keanu Reeves is practically immortal. He hasn’t evolved heavily as an actor, but the right role can do wonders. No monologues by Reeves here (unfortunately), but the performance is not only convincing, but often funny andintentionally so. At 52, Reeves moves with intensity and vigor that’s seen in the 30-somethings populating all these superhero properties. Reeves has known to surprise viewers when he’s doing pure genre or esoteric projects (“Side by Side,” “Thumbsucker,” “A Scanner Darkly,” “Man of Tai Chi,” etc.). An awesome supporting cast with players such as Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo and Laurence Fishburne provide performances designed in nailing one liners left and right.
“Chapter 2” isn’t a film that necessarily has bad elements, but rather parts that one wishes were a bit stronger. The main antagonist and his motivations are a bit weak, needing a bit more behind his reasoning other than jealousy and greed. It doesn’t have the depth and bravado as George Miller’s recent masterpiece “Mad Max: Fury Road,” but not many actions films do. There’s also an offbeat, slightly bizarre decision regarding the one female actor with a speaking role.
“Chapter 2” is an example of when “style over substance” is absolutely preferred. This is not to imply empty, as the filmmakers truly are passionate about the genre—alluding to outright classics for the best results.
This film’s final action sequence pays homage to “Enter the Dragon.” If you end your film in a hall of mirrors, it’s almost like showing off as a filmmaker, inviting and teasing audiences with a setting that theoretically functions both practically and aesthetically. Easier said than done, and yet “John Wick: Chapter 2” revels in John’s ability to get the job done, providing cinematic magic when he makes it look so easy.