First and most important: Nothing bad happens to the dog. In fact, the first fifteen minutes of John Wick: Chapter 2 play like something of an apology for the first fifteen minutes of John Wick, as Chapter 2 opens with a rousing car chase and a surprisingly funny recap of the first movie. Once again, John Wick is introduced as “Baba Yaga”, the nominally retired, boogeyman hitman whose name alone is enough to cause hardened criminals to sigh and grimly accept that they are about to die. Peter Stormare cameos as Abram, the brother of Viggo Tarasov, who ran afoul of John in the first movie. Abram is trying to get out of town as fast as possible because he has John Wick’s car, and John wants it back. (“Why not just give it back?” asks a henchman. The look of incredulity on Stormare’s face is amazing.)
There is definitely some “bigger, louder, more” happening, which may or may not put the violence over the top depending on your personal tolerance for blood splatter. John Wick killed something like 76 people in the first movie. In Chapter 2 he kills like 517. This is a violent movie with viscerally effective practical blood effects—SO nice to see the use of squibs—that result in, um, some chunky head shots and one especially gushy groin-slash that made the whole audience go “EW”. We also get to see John Wick’s famous pencil trick which is—quite something.
But for all that John is on a rampage, Chapter 2 also takes the time to slow down and show us more of the world of assassins. The first movie only hinted at the shadow world of assassins from which John retired, but as Chapter 2 takes him to Rome, we get to see more of the system of Continental Hotels—and a great appearance by Franco Nero as one of the managers—as well as just what those gold coins will buy you: chiefly bulletproof suits and guns. There’s a wonderfully cut “suiting up” montage in Rome that shows John getting all the pieces he needs to execute a hit, the best part of which is Peter Serafinowicz appearing a Q-like character called “the Sommelier” who discusses weapons like fine wine.
John Wick is dumb in a smart way, though, so there’s no attempt to explain the logic behind this world. It’s simply presented and taken at face value. We don’t need to know WHY you can’t kill people in a Continental Hotel, just that you can’t, and this leads to some pretty good humor as John and a fellow assassin, Cassian (Common), share drinks at the bar moments after attempting to murder each other in the street.
There is a surprising amount of humor in Chapter 2. The first movie had its moments, but Chapter 2 actively sets up some jokes, particularly visual gags, and they all work. It also gives Reeves another note to play as John is revealed to have a pretty great deadpan sense of humor. But he’s also still wracked by grief—the movie opens just days after the first, so we’re still within a week or so of his wife’s death—and now he’s boiling with rage at being forced back into action when a blood debt is called due. Reeves has some work to do as an actor here, and he does it well, playing John as a largely self-contained man who maybe has an addiction to his former, violent lifestyle that he no longer has to deny since his wife is dead. John is more feral here, and more like the “boogeyman” he was before his retirement.
Reeves also does a LOT of his own stunt work—pay attention to how long the action beats go, how few cuts there are in a sequence, and how much of it is shot whole-body in frame. This is a BEAUTIFUL film, soaked in the now-recognizable crimson and jade palette of John Wick, with some unbelievably well-choreographed action sequences, especially the finale piece in an art installation. Once again directed by Chad Stahelski—though missing his creative partner, David Leitch—Chapter 2 sets itself apart by ignoring the American cinematic trend of quick cuts and shaky-cam.
There is no way to improve on John Wick, a perfect movie, and Chapter 2 doesn’t try. Instead, like Avengers: Age of Ultron, it takes a big step sideways and indulges in universe expansion and character work. This may lead some to think Chapter 2 isn’t as good, or is somehow disappointing. That would be missing all the joy and happiness of a John Wick movie with 100% less puppy murder, and it disregards the worldbuilding that not only takes John from being a stoic badass to an actually interesting character, but gives us a slightly weird alternate-reality action franchise that isn’t based on a video game or comic book. John Wick was a scrappy surprise in 2014—in 2017, Chapter 2 is a triumphant return for cinema’s coolest action anti-hero.
Attached - Keanu at the John Wick photocall in Paris yesterday.