John Wick: Chapter 2 Review: He Still Knows Gun Fu

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The John Wick films are a very special brand within the action genre. With a no-nonsense approach to story, in that the script’s skeleton is very barebones, they’ve subverted the genre, parodied it, and effortlessly lived in it. The original was the story of the titular John Wick (Keanu Reeves), a humble but celebrated assassin, getting revenge for the death of his dog. The opening scene of Chapter 2 is about him getting his car back. The simpler the better. The more mundane or simple the plot is, the more hilariously over the top it is that John Wick is killing all these henchmen is increasingly ridiculous ways.

The sequel does unfortunately dive a little too deep into mythology that, in the original, was there mostly for slightly satirical world-building. Upon getting his car back, John gets a visit from Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), a fellow assassin and crime lord whom John owes a debt to. That debt is to be paid by killing Santino’s sister, another powerful member of the same league of assassins John wants to retire from. There’s a good 45 minutes or so between action scenes as we learn all this and get a deeper dive into the assassin world in New York City and elsewhere. All this exposition and world-building betray a lot of what made the original film so special, interrupting its refreshing simplicity with unnecessary complexities.

But once the gun fu resumes, you’ll forget you were ever bored. The action scenes of Chapter 2 are joyfully choreographed and expertly executed. Director Chad Stahelski proves once again that he’s a new name in action to not only watch, but celebrate as well. Then there’s Keanu Reeves, who has finally found another franchise that benefits from his stoic, borderline emotionless growl as he fights his way through legions of gun-touting mercenaries all over the city. The film smartly leaves the scenery chewing to Ian McShane, reprising his role from the original, and Laurence Fishburne, making for a delightful Matrix reunion that hits the nostalgia button just as hard as it should (For the record, however, I’d love to see this taken farther. Let’s get Carrie Anne-Moss and Hugo Weaving for Chapter 3!).

Then again, the bullets do most of the literal scenery chewing. Chapter 2 is the first New York City-set film to make use of the new World Trade Center Oculus for a set piece, and it’s glorious. There are a great many playful action scenes that wonderfully use their space to the fullest advantage, including a close-quarters subway brawl John and fellow assassin Cassian (Common). If you’re an action fan, this John Wick sequel will most certainly quench your thirst, even if it takes a little too long to do so. There may be a sense that Chapter 2 is trying to build this into another overlong franchise, but the damage hasn’t quite been done yet, and hopefully never will be. Bring on the inevitable third chapter! Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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