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REVIEW: John Wick: Chapter 2

February 17, 2017

Director: Chad Stahelski
Screenplay: Derek Kolstad
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane
Runtime: 122 Minutes

 

★★★★☆

 

John Wick hit audiences everywhere like a left hook to the face as a lean, sharp and undeniably excellent action thriller from stuntmen turned filmmakers Chad Stahelski and Derek Kolstad. Its brilliantly simplistic setup served as the foundations for the rebirth of Keanu Reeves career in action cinema, the creation of a new hero figure, and the roots of a franchise through its effortlessly enigmatic sense of world building regarding its hitman fantasy.

 

John Wick: Chapter 2 picks up immediately following the events of the original, and see’s Wick (Keanu Reeves) being pulled back into his old life once again for one final task. What follows is the experience of seeing the life of John Wick before he retired, with all the readily formed details of seeing a professional preparing for and executing a job in his day-to-day work – and it’s accomplished with all the style and brutal grace of the predecessor twice over.

 

Much like Gareth Evans’ The Raid 2, the film builds on all of the promise of the original in terms of the world building of its internal universe of high crime lords and a shadowy society of able assassins from all walks of life. The plot fills in the specifics with an archetypal narrative for the genre, but functions really well given its in-depth investment and intricacies of how this world operates in its multiple facets on a global scale. It’s simple enough, but simple doesn’t equal stupid – and it serves mainly as the platform for the films numerous action sequences.

 

Said sequences are about as good as you could possibly ask for from this genre. Staged and choreographed to a level of slick perfection, there’s an unprecedented level of brutal physicality granted through the efforts of the actors and the stunt team. Shot with an impeccable eye for scene geography and a resistance to editing where it is unnecessary, Reeves storms the frame with savage prowess and physical strain in a way that very few modern actors can accomplish.

 

Writer Derek Kolstad understands that nothing can truly stop the world’s greatest hitman, and so sending wave after wave can only serve to slow him down, and uses this to its advantage. Characters have a reason to fear “The Bogeyman”, as the film escalates the action between gorgeous locations and levels of fabulous tension and absurdity, always inviting the audience to laugh with it as things get further out of hand while Wick dispatches with near limitless capability.

 

Performers such as Ian McShane, Lance Reddick and John Leguizamo make reappearances, as well as newcomers in the form of Riccardo Scamarcio and Laurence Fishburne, and a host of other familiar faces of the genre. The standouts include American rapper Common as a reoccurring antagonist who sees Wick through a series of spectacular city brawls, and Ruby Rose as a mute and devilish security enforcer.

 

But the film very much belongs to Reeves. The character and series feel like the opportunity he’s been waiting his entire life to seize and it’s extraordinary to see him cut loose with such graceful physicality and surprising nuance.

 

John Wick: Chapter 2's only shortcomings come down to it not being quite the same shock to the system as the striking original, with a larger and more sprawling world to explore. Its focal point is mood, aesthetic and glorified headshots. It carries itself with an unparalleled modern style and beauty, and it fulfils its duties as both an exemplary sequel and a hard-as-nails piece of action cinema with dazzling execution and poise.

 

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