When the first John Wick film was released, it was met with surprisingly positive reviews from critics and audiences alike, so it is no surprise that this fun, new action movie franchise is back with a follow-up. Keanu Reeves returns as John Wick, the once retired assassin who was forced to seek revenge for his dog in the first movie, and thankfully this movie picks up pretty much right where the first one left off. The story could have been a tired retread if they again had a retired Wick, have something else taken from him, or if his replacement dog had met a similar fate in the sequel. The story starts not long after the events of the first film, as Wick is on the hunt for his stolen car, something that was a bit of a loose end for the last film. Thankfully his bloody quest to reclaim his vehicle is not the whole plot of the film, and serves as more of a bridge between the two installments. Where the film’s plot really picks up, is with the introduction of a face from John Wick’s past, who asks him for one last job.
The most intriguing thing about the two movies thus far in the story of John Wick, is the world in which he left behind, because it is the one thing that isn’t ever fully explored. There are glimpses of it in the first movie, the Continental Hotel, the various other spies, and the gold coins that are an all encompassing form of currency. All of those return in John Wick 2 as well, more assassins, an italian Continental, and even more gold coins being slid across tables. The new elements that the film adds, are about the hierarchy of the assassin underground, and a system for granting, and calling in favors. It is these two new elements that are at the core of John Wick 2, as italian “business man” Santino D’Antonio comes looking to collect his favor from John. His favor is requested because he wants a seat at “The High Table,” something that doesn’t get explained in as much detail as it should have given how much it impacts the plot, but the idea of a governing body to this world is something interesting to look forward to should there be other installments. The film also introduces markers, where in one person marks a golden locket of sorts with their blood, and gives it to another, who can then call in that marker at anytime to get something from that person, before completing the marker with their own bloody fingerprint. The notion of this eye for an eye system is something that adds even more lore and backstory to this world, so the film is made up of more than just guns and punching.
That isn’t to say that the guns and punching aren’t great, because they are. The fight sequences are ratcheted up from the first film, with a never ending stream of bad guys ready to try to take down “the Boogeyman.” The choreography is again masterful, and the mix between fists, kicks, grappling, guns, and vehicular combat are all excellent. The film is littered with great action sequences, that each have their own intensity, with the stakes getting higher as the film progresses. Director Chad Stahelski given his stunt background, really has the look and feel for each fight down, and the sequel while similar, never feels the same as the first, due to the variety in the fighting. Each fight scene is enhanced by a great score, with the pulsing music that blares through each action beat, including a great few moments at an outdoor rave party, where the music fits the setting.
Reeves is again the perfect choice for this character, his silent yet lighthearted approach still works, and never comes off as campy or ridiculous as it easily could have. The film does a great job of mixing in humor, along with the action, and though it isn’t a particularly funny movie, the moments of levity sprinkled throughout are a nice touch that carried over from the first film. The rest of the cast that isn’t just simple target practice for Wick, are all good additions to the story, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, and Lance Reddick all reprise their roles, with McShane getting increased screen time, and is the familiar faced tasked with expanding the wider world the film is building. He newcomers are also valuable additions to the franchise. Riccardo Scamarcio is good as D’Antonio, and he makes the perfect foil for Wick, with the use of the marker he presents, and sets up a unique relationship between antagonist, and protagonist. D’Antonio’s muscle, in addition to hundreds of stooges, is Ruby Rose’s silent but very deadly Ares, whose use of sign language, is a clever way to bring back the on-screen typography that was used so heavily in the first film. The real standout newcomer is Common, who fills the role in this film of respected adversary, and his scenes with Wick are some of the better moments in the film, especially his introduction, where the two decide if there is a need for them to fight each other.
John Wick 2 is a movie that could have felt overly familiar given the fairly basic premise of the original, and the added expectations that the first film did not have. Had this film spent its entire two hour run time with John looking for his stolen car, it would have been major disappointment. Luckily, the film crafts and interesting story, builds up its own larger world of assassins, mobsters, and power players, and adds all of that to top notch fight choreography, making John Wick 2 a standout action film, and a worthwhile successor to a surprise hit.