Movie review: John Wick continues to dazzle action lovers in Chapter 2

Keanu Reeves returns as the seasoned hitman in John Wick: Chapter 2. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate Keanu Reeves returns as the seasoned hitman in John Wick: Chapter 2. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

How do you possibly improve on the grace, skill, class and economy of John Wick, the film that wrote the book on making impeccable filmmaking technique appear totally effortless? Strange as it may seem, the answer is do exactly the same, only better. John Wick: Chapter 2 contains all of the typical downfalls of modern action sequels: more plot, more characters, cameos and an expanded explanation for the in-film universe that was already totally coherent. Through the same no-nonsense, yet utterly remarkable magic that made its predecessor the best English-language action film since Mad Max: Fury Road, John Wick: Chapter 2 is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser and a satisfying resultant of the over-50 action hero subgenre.

John Wick: Chapter 2
R, 120 minutes
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema

John Wick: Chapter 2 begins shortly after the first film left off, as our hero (Keanu Reeves) wraps up the loose end of recovering his stolen car. Things kick off with a suitably cartoonish introduction to the backstory and mythology of the series, full of stunning combat choreography and a primer provided by the inimitable Peter Stormare as the brother of villain Viggo: John Wick is the exception to all rules, an unstoppable man of immense focus who once killed three men in a bar with a pencil.

Following his retirement from professional killing, Wick brings his car home to finally establish the life of peace and quiet that had eluded him. Unfortunately, he is visited by mafia boss Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), to whom Wick made a blood oath that is now being redeemed in the form of a hit on D’Antonio’s sister in Rome. Of course, D’Antonio betrays Wick’s trust, and the result leaves Wick with a burned-out home (though his new puppy survives) and permanently on the run to escape a $7 million price on his head. His only option is to track D’Antonio down and kill him, but he must do so with every contract killer in the world on his tail.

Crucial to both Wick films’ success has been that, despite excellent world-building and colorful supporting characters, they go in a completely straight line, from cause to conclusion. There are no subplots, no love stories, no distractions; everything on the screen relates directly to Wick’s story. Like the series’ hero, once they start, they do not stop until everyone is either dead or satisfied with the death of someone else. The new rules followed by the crime world in Chapter 2 fit comfortably with those established in the previous entry and never feel like retroactive continuity as an excuse for more fighting (see: the later Terminator films). The new roles—Ruby Rose as D’Antonio’s enforcer, Ares, Common as John’s chief rival, Cassian, and many others—are not only fun, but instrumental in cementing the charm of Chapter 2. Even a guest appearance by Laurence Fishburne does not feel as forced as it might in lesser hands than those of director Chad Stahelski and producer David Leitch, who previously led the stunt team on The Matrix series.

Stylistically, John Wick: Chapter 2 is as much a child of John Woo-style “gun-fu” as the Wachowskis, but with a very strong independent streak (though it is certainly recommended that you watch the first entry beforehand). Chapter 2 is funnier, but the humor is organic and not the result of ironic winking or pandering as in lesser-action sequels; it claws and scratches to win the audience’s approval but does not beg. In fact, you may be the one doing the begging for Chapter 3 after its breathtaking conclusion. John Wick was a perfect movie through and through, and Chapter 2 is a perfect sequel.

Playing this week

Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213

The Comedian, A Dog’s Purpose, Fifty Shades Darker, La La Land, The Lego Batman Movie, Moana, Rings, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Sing, The Space Between Us, Split

Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000

2017 Oscar Nominated Shorts, 20th Century Women, Fifty Shades Darker, Hidden Figures, Jackie, The Lego Batman Movie, La La Land, Mifune: The Last Samurai, Paterson, Split

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