Somebody please get this man a gun.
Like, you know, approximately every other person in the world, I was caught totally by surprise by the original John Wick, a movie that looked like it was going to deliver yet another leaden, cliché-ridden action movie and instead turned up the heat on a tired genre and gave audiences a real jolt with its visual flair, strange world-building and wall-to-wall brilliant action sequences. John Wick: Chapter 2 has a lot riding on it and, in a lot of ways, it’s the polar opposite of the original, which didn’t have anything to lose and had no grand ambitions beyond providing a great thrill-ride. Chapter 2 is a very different film than the first film in the series. It doubles down on the arcane world of hitmen and mobsters by offering even more details and delving deeper into the rules and regulations that govern this world. And the tone is completely different. While the first film had a slick, modern flash to it, this film transplants its hero to Europe for a lengthy period of the film and indulges itself in a lush, gothic styled opera. There’s a stunning scene of Wick meeting up with one of his targets in her lavishly furnished bathroom that is just gorgeously shot and paced like the victim is a dying swan. It’s a scene that would never have been in the first film, but it works here. This film asks for a bit more of its leading man, however, and he isn’t quite able to deliver the acting goods, being required to try for a bit more nuance at times here. But the supporting cast is wonderful. Ian McShane is given a bit more emotional lifting to do, always a good move. Ruby Rose is a load of fun as the deaf, sardonic bodyguard and she looks great throughout the film, pulling off a weird, charming kind of David Bowie cosplay. Best of all, in my opinion, is Riccardo Scamarcio as the villain; his performance is pitch perfect, creating a slimy, cultured villain you love to hate. And the action is reliably good, at times, as in the final lengthy chase scene, intense and riveting. It still pulls off some tongue in cheek stuff really well; there’s a great bit in which Reeves & Common (quite good as a charismatic hitman) use silenced pistols to have a very surreptitious gunfight in the midst of a crowd of oblivious bystanders. The film is very consciously striving to be bigger and better than the original and, while I’ve heard a lot of people say it pulls it off, I don’t necessarily agree. It’s certainly wider in scope, but the film sometimes tries a bit too hard; the scene with Jimmy the cop in the original John Wick is one of the best moments in the film, but when he returns in this movie, it feels like lazy fan service and falls totally flat. This movie is certainly a movie with flaws and I consider the original to be kind of a perfect film that does everything right and never really puts a single step wrong. But then the pressure is on for this one and if it makes more mistakes, it’s also trying to do more and, while I don’t think it’s better than the first film, it’s still a striking, brilliantly executed movie and still a must see. Come year’s end, I’ll be interested to see if I’ve seen a better action movie. I get the feeling that, missteps included, Wick takes it in a walk. 4 stars.
tl;dr – sequel has different tone from the lean, mean original, but the operatic melodrama works here mostly; a few missteps can’t derail this epic action film from landing like a ton of bricks. 4 stars.