John Wick: Chapter 2 – More of the Same Without Being More of the Same (Film Review)

The title says it all, John Wick: Chapter 2 is not just a sequel or follow-up installment, it’s literally the next chapter in the John Wick story. And wow is it a good chapter.

The first film introduced us to ex-hitman John, whose top three favorite things in life were his wife, car and dog – I’m assuming in that order. He has all three taken from him subsequently ending his non-violent sabbatical. So what’s a guy with unmatched gun-skill and a penchant for headshots to do? Kill’em all, of course. And he does. So what could be next?

That’s what I was asking. When a film like John Wick comes out of nowhere and gets almost everything right, I always worry that making another will simply be forcing more of the same. How do you top a project that’s already at the peak of what you’re trying to do? The answer is you don’t try to outdo or copy it, you just tell more of the story. Easier said than done.

Money Where Your Mouth Is

If you loved the original JW like I did, you might be surprised to know just how little money it pulled in. Finishing its theatrical run with a bit over $76 million at the global box office – not typical “let’s make a sequel” numbers – John Wick received rave reviews despite the R-rated graphic violence the film is now famous for. With a reported production budget of $20 million, it turned a profit, was loved by critics and immediately gained cult status.

Chapter 2, despite the first not raking in the dough, has some pretty big holsters to fill and an established fan-base to now try and satisfy. Step one: more money. JW2 gets underway with double the budget and star power, adding Laurence Fishburne, Common and Ruby Rose to an already solid roster. Upping what you spend by itself isn’t the answer, but this time out the franchise will have something new to contend with: Expectations. JW was the definition of under-the-radar, a luxury its continuation will not be afforded.

That cash not only brings in additional on-screen talent, it gives the creative forces behind the camera – namely director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad – the ability to push beyond the initial offering.

Bullets Where Your Mouth Is

There are so many things the original John Wick got right. So many. But its defining feature, its single most recognizable trait is the exquisitely depicted violence. Everything in a movie is stylized, especially violence. But the fast, unrelenting, neck snapping, face shooting action we see is so artfully performed by Keanu and cast the brutality seems almost casual.

Transformation is a gift given by art, and the fact that performing judo, jiu-jitsu and acrobatic gunplay on a blood-soaked stage appears more like a dance than a crime scene is a standing ovation for the filmmakers, actors and stunt teams. Leading the way is the often panned Keanu Reeves. I’m a fan, but I totally understand why some aren’t. What you can’t debate is his dedication to not only getting a character like this right, but that he works and trains not so that he can pretend to do all those amazing things, but so that he can actually do them.

Google or search YouTube for “Keanu training for John Wick.” He works so hard with each needed skill you’d think they were life long passions, not preparations for a movie. Hate if you’d like, but if every actor put in this kind of effort we’d have a lot fewer shit films and TV shows. It doesn’t stop with him, though. Everyone who gets screen time more than looks the part once the bullets start flying. Common kills it when his time to shine comes. I do wish, however, that Ruby got to participate in a bit more of the action. Maybe in the next one?

More Isn’t Always Better… Unless It Is

So often a sequel is mostly a cash grab. A new film does well enough that it suddenly becomes a franchise and a parade of heartless, mindless garbage is produced so you’ll buy tickets hoping it’s as good as the first one. How often has the “2” following a title been more bathroom code than anything? There’s a difference between repeating what’s “good” in a film and bringing core elements into future installments. More vs. Core.

At its core, John Wick is slick action and a fast-paced story with an anti-hero narrative. Those elements make the title and cleanly and appropriately travel to the sequel. The transition between films makes sense, the characters feels consistent, not repetitive, and the setting grows and expands as the story unfolds. Probably my favorite aspect – you know, besides all the dead bodies – is this gangster fantasy world that is completely ridiculous yet perfectly appropriate. I mean, a weapons Sommelier? Awesome.

Everything you loved about the first one is in the second. Everything that should have carried over did. And all those things didn’t just get copy-and-pasted, they feel fresh, new and just right for the moment.

The Little Things

You’re going to be wowed by the action, performances and pure coolness of everything else, but the hidden star in making this – and the original – a success are the things you might not consider when judging a film.

Set design and wardrobe are just wonderful. The entire aesthetic of the film has been expertly crafted with an eye to the just, ever so slightly, over-the-top nature of the John Wick world. Colors and shapes are so important, when analyzing a scene, the details in every environment are delicious.

Giving scope to those great backdrops is some stand-out camera work. “Stylish” is the word that best describes the perspective, but “impressive” will make more sense once you factor in just how hard it is to make that much action look that seamless. You never lose sight of what’s important on screen all while getting very cool angles and shots. There is a sequence near the end with a fun-house sized hall of mirrors – a cameraman’s worst nightmare – and it works so well.

In Closing…

The masterminds behind the first do an awesome job carrying the torch forward without re-running the same race. It’s the same character, same setting, more story. NOT just more of the same for the sake of making a sequel. Keanu Reeves slays – literally and figuratively – as the lead and is supported very well by everyone else who gets a moment in front of the lens. A lens thats always pointed in the right direction as it gives you a gorgeous eyeful.

If you like the first and want to see what happens next to John Wick… WATCH THIS MOVIE!

Missed the first but love action, cool cars and badass chicks… WATCH THIS MOVIE!

Hate movies and would rather clip coupons… OK, you probably should just stay home.

John Wick: Chapter 2 is in US theaters now! See the film then click on over to Facebook and tell us what you thought.

** Box office sales figures sourced via The Numbers and Box Office Mojo. **

About The Author

Michael Pellegrini

Michael is a classic example of a child trapped in an adult's body - and I use the word "adult" very, very loosely. With interests ranging from comic books and movies to theater and fine art, Mike has followed humble journalistic beginnings that have led to interviews, reviews, news write-ups and opinion - though it's ever changing - pieces covering those same interests. All of that brings us here, to a site where a community of like-minded geeks can inform the rest of the world on the topics we adore. And on the personal side of things, Michael squeezes time for his lovely wife and house full of dogs between all the comic reading and video game playing.

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