John Wick: Chapter Two
Directed by Chad Stahelski
Written by Derek Kolstad
Starring Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Riccardo Scamarcio, Common, Lance Reddick, Claudia Gerini, Bridget Moynahan, John Leguizamo, Laurence Fishburne
Director of Photography by Dan Laustsen
John Wick took everyone by surprise with its early 2014 release. Many American-made action films rely too heavily on cutting and using body doubles to create engaging and exciting action sequences. That sounds good on paper but rarely ever looks cool and gratifying, see the Taken franchise as the primary offender. Stunt actors turned directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch opted to shoot an action film with wide angles, longer takes, and a visceral Keanu Reeves in the role he was born to play –– after Neo, of course. John Wick: Chapter Two sees the return of the titular character neck deep into the mysterious underground world of assassins.
What the first film did so well, aside from the action sequences, was the world of which these assassins inhibit and the rules they abide by. Writer Derek Kolstad expounds upon this in Chapter Two with more rules, new locations, and how it all works as a cohesive unit. The first film was a revenge film in its purest form, seeking revenge for the person responsible for killing his puppy and stealing his car. John Wick: Chapter Two begins days after the original ends with Wick stealing his car and asking for peace with Abram Tarasov (Peter Stormare), the brother of the last film’s villain, not before shedding some blood. All is well and fine until Santino D’Antonio (Scamarcio) forces him to enter the world he tried to walk away from. Like other films of this genre, things don’t go according to plan and now Wick must kill his way through Italy and New York to seek revenge and wage war against everyone in the process.
Each gun and hand-to-hand fights are meticulously thought out and are a blast to sit through. There are no quick cuts, or the use of stunt players in place of actors to make each punch look real; Reeves performs the majority of his own stunts. Some may complain about Reeves moving slowly in some fights or as each fight progresses but that adds to the charm of John Wick: Chapter Two. But there’s an added bonus of following a vulnerable protagonist, even with all his shortcomings–or lack thereof–can make everyone cower. The opening sequence exemplifies that with Reeves’ machine-like movements. Where the first film showcases the character’s finesse and precision, John Wick: Chapter Two highlights his brutality and animalistic nature.
Every punch and gunshot carry the weight and force of its real life counterpart. When Wick is ducking through corridors in a hail of gunfire, the sound designers and mixers create a spatial map of where bullets are hitting concrete walls or whizzing past Wick. Many films don’t utilize their sound designers and mixers all too often, especially in some of the more popular comic-book adaptations, leaving some films sounding too flat and dull.
Dan Laustsen’s use of colorful lighting provides each location with their own unique flair. The final gun battle takes on an Enter The Dragon–Skyfall hybrid that calls back to the martial art films of yesteryear with the hyper-stylized choreography of today. Production Designer Kevin Kavanaugh allows for enough variety to make each location unique. Exteriors in Italy are different from the interiors–same with New York.
Ian McShane, like in the first film, is commanding every second he’s on screen. While not as ruthless as Adrianne Palicki in the first film, Ruby Rose is adequate as the deaf Ares, the right-hand woman to Scamarcio’s D’Antonio.
The final frames of the film had me on the edge of my seat anxiously waiting for the third and final installment. Kolstad generates enough connective tissue to cohesively flow from the first film to the next and keeps that momentum going for the next one. Keanu Reeves is the action star we really don’t deserve but truly need.