I’ve reviewed a lot of action films on these pages and I’ve been quite clear with what I like. I want the directors to show me cool people doing cool things rather than ramming 50 million cuts into a scene and thinking that seeing stunt doubles jab at each other from multiple angles are exciting. Luckily, we’ve been moving back to the latter in recent years and a lot of that is because of John Wick. This was a movie that came out of nowhere and became a classic, merely because of how well the action scenes are done. So can its sequel John Wick: Chapter Two live up to the original?
After John Wick (Keanu Reeves, The Matrix) tries to get back to normality following his revenge filled return to assassination, he is tracked down by fellow killer and crime lord boss Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio, Loose Cannons) who demands who do one last job for him, revealing a blood oath that Wick did to get out of assassination in the first place. When Wick refuses, D’Antonio decides to take matters into his own hands.
So I’ve briefly talked about the plot but all of that is basically just the first ten minutes. This film is packed with a lot of plot details and it’s far more complicated that the revenge thriller we got in the first film. This is a slight knock on the movie because if I’m completely honest, I had very little idea of what was going on at certain points in the film.
While there is indeed a lore to this movie, mostly through the Continental, an assassin run hotel which is a safe ground for these killers, the plot is mostly so they can move to Wick to a variety of cool places and so he can get into fights who can go toe to toe with him. I don’t really have much of a problem with that, yes it means it’s not as tight as the original. But it does what the plot is meant to do here, move Wick around the world with ease and get him into some pretty awesome fights.
And yes, that is the reason you buy a ticket to this movie, the action scenes. That’s because as I said at the top, the direction is perfect. While Reeves has many weaknesses as an actor, he is a legitimate bad ass and trained heavily in judo and jujitsu in preparation for this role, so he does look like he can kick your head off, probably because he could. So the director Chad Stahelski, who has only ever done this series, actually has a pretty easy job. Find another guy who can go toe-to-toe with Reeves, put the camera on those two and just let them have it out. It leads to insane action scenes where it looks like two guys are genuinely trying to kill each other. It’s thrilling to watch and it sets this movie apart from many of the other action flicks I have seen in recent years.
But as awesome as these fist fights are, certainly more awesome than the Fist Fight movie, it would end up being a bit tiresome just seeing them over and over again. That’s why there’s a variety of action and while the gun battles aren’t as good as the fights, they are great. This takes a bit more effort from Stahelski to shoot, but it does it so well. Again, he trusts his actors on-screen and what the choreographers are getting them to do. So he for the most part, he keeps the action still and pointed at what we want to see. So instead of being mildly impressed when a stuntman that looks slightly like Reeves kills some folks, we are in awe of Reeves mowing down villain after villain and seeming like he is unstoppable.
I’m not sure if that is actually a problem though. You see, John Wick: Chapter Two builds up Wick as the greatest assassin ever. There’s a brilliant monologue at the start of the film which basically lays out Wick as this monster who is simply unstoppable when he is on a mission. He is constantly referred to by his nickname, the Boogeyman. Basically, you are told that Wick is the greatest killer on Earth and you have no reason to disagree when he does show up and start killing everyone that’s in his path. But that also causes a slight problem. Basically, many action scenes are thrilling because of the threat are hero is in. And it never feels like Wick is going to lose because he’s so awesome. Instead, the action scenes are exhibitions of brilliance from Wick and while that is incredibly fun on his own because of how amazing he is, it can’t ever reach a true level of excellence because of the lack of threat to Wick.
But I don’t want to end this review on a negative note so let me say this, the film looks amazing. I have been a bit patronising to the director Stahelski during this review I do admit but let me have nothing but praise for him here because he makes everything look stunning. He picks stunning settings, I don’t know where Wick was in Italy but boy do I want to go there to as it’s just so lavish, and then lights them to give them this otherworldly feel. And this enhances every single scene. It’s good enough when the action is this brilliantly laid out but when you light like this, you make it more than just adrenaline pumping fun. You make it into art.
Many film critics look down on pure action films because they are just there to get the blood pumping in the most base way possible. But when John Wick: Chapter Two does it so well, how can you dismiss it? Yes I know the plot is a load of nonsense but in a way that enhances the fun you end up having with the movie. The action scenes are brutal but so much fun as well because they all feel so real. Added onto it, it looks great and better than pretty much every other action film I’ve seen in the last few years. Just go see it as you’ll realise why Keanu Reeves is relevant again.