“John Wick” sequel expands on earnestness of first film

“John Wick: Chapter 2,” directed by Chad Stahelski and starring Keanu Reeves, is a typical, over-the-top action movie that artfully continues the story of this charismatic hitman. / Courtesy of BagoGames on Flickr

“John Wick: Chapter 2” is an experiment in absurdism. You have Keanu “The One” Reeves acting as stiffly as ever, kicking ass and taking names. Sure, you can watch a broad-shouldered middle-aged white dude kick ass in almost any movie nowadays, but there’s something about this movie that had me thoroughly enjoying my time in the theater.

I think what makes this film great is its earnestness. The movie is stupid, and it knows it, but director Chad Stahelski really put his heart into making it as enjoyable as it can be. Stahelski knew how cheesy it was to make a movie about a hitman who goes bloodthirsty after some punks kill his puppy, and he knows how absurd it is to then make a sequel to that film.

“John Wick: Chapter 2” is that sequel. No, the dog doesn’t die again, but would anyone really be surprised if it had? The instigating incident in this movie is the destruction of Wick’s house, which takes place almost immediately after the events of the first film. While the house gets destroyed, that alone isn’t what makes Wick come back this time around. I was pleasantly surprised with how the exposition set things up in this movie.

I’m going to try not to spoil much in this review, so I won’t go into the details of the plot, but I do think the story told in the film is solid. One thing I will spoil is that the world-building in this movie is excellent. In the first “John Wick,” we got hints of this “other world” of high-class hitmen, but it was all very much from the perspective of someone trying their best to distance themselves from this environment. This time around, we get to see much more of this world from a wide array of characters that inhabit it.

Speaking of unique characters, I really liked how much the script was able to wring out so much character definition from so little. Seriously, some characters only had like six lines total, but you still got a sense of who they were more than just “concierge guy” or “sign-language girl.”

Then there’s the man himself, the man who’s “thinking he’s back.” John Wick is a great character for this film, and Keanu plays him to perfection. “Chapter 2” really focuses on how Wick interacts with the world around him and just what it means to constantly be ready to dole out vengeance, and I feel that the film is stronger for it.

Not to say that Wick is a great character period, but the focus of the film is almost entirely on Wick. And sure, Keanu is very stiff with some lines, but that’s how the character works, and I couldn’t imagine him being played any other way.

Keanu is probably where the earnestness of the film is most notably channeled. His performance is perfect for this film: Keanu lays the cheese on thick while still maintaining a level of seriousness to keep the plot grounded. His performance is like Wesley Snipe’s in “Blade II,” a completely ridiculous one that is ridiculously perfect for the film in question.

On the topic of “John Wick,” I want to talk about the one-liners for a second. While there aren’t any lines as off-the-wall awesome as “I’m thinking I’m back” from the first film, there are a literal ton of one-liners that come close. I won’t say any, but just know that they’re there and that they’re great. These one-liners and Keanu’s performance as John Wick are almost the centerpiece of this film for me.

Of course the real centerpiece is the action in this movie; everything else is just an excuse to get it onto the screen (not to say that everything else is subpar—it isn’t). In this sense, I’m happy to say that “John Wick: Chapter 2” had me feeling the same way leaving the theater as with “Mad Max: Fury Road.” That is to say, I left the theater pumped-full of adrenaline.

There’s almost too much action in this movie, in fact. I feel like it might have been a little bit stronger if John Wick hadn’t killed as many people as he does. It’s awesome to watch Keanu Reeves jump, shoot, spin and stab, but there comes a point right before the last big set-piece where I was getting a little bored with the killing of faceless thugs.

But then the final set-piece came around—and wow, I was completely blown away. This last monumental scene mounted the tension to the breaking point, and the camera work was astounding. While this set-piece isn’t exactly original (it reminded me of a particular Key and Peele sketch), the execution was absolutely flawless. It looked cool, the action in it was great and, most importantly, it kept with the style of the movie.

Speaking of style, this movie is a joy to look at. The first “John Wick” had a style to it—a pretty gray one. It was sleek, modern and a little bit colorless. “Chapter 2” brought colors into the mix this time around and I really liked it. Everything was bright and really helped to set this movie apart from most of the other popular action movies.

I’m going to finish up my praise with other noteworthy things about the movie: Common was excellent in this movie. He met Reeves pound-for-pound on the physicality and gave a performance to match (the fights on the stairway and subway were fantastic). The whole supporting cast was very strong. The car stunt work was leaps and bounds above the first movie’s. And finally, I think the score was perfect for the film.

“John Wick Chapter 2” is awesome. I loved this movie. I seriously can’t recommend it enough if you were a fan of the first one like I was. There might be a little bit too much action—and the action might go a little over the top sometimes—but I felt like “John Wick: Chapter 2” artfully juggles its absurdity with its seriousness, and the result is a movie that I can’t wait to see again.

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