Last year, we were distinctly lacking in a ‘pure’ action movie. In 2013, we had the pulse-pounding Gravity. In 2014, we had the craziest sequel ever, The Raid 2. In 2015, Mad Max: Fury Road raised that bar. But in 2016, the best we had for intensity was Green Room and the most formally spectacular was Assassin’s Creed (c’mon, you know I’m right). What a relief it is to have an absolute barn-stormer of an action flick straight out of 2017’s gate before February has even ended. It’s even more of a relief to find that John Wick: Chapter 2 is a superior sequel to an already-rock solid film, and that’s not just because the dog survives this one (not a spoiler, more of a relief).
Director Chad Stahelski’s return to the John Wick universe (Wickiverse? Sounds like a webpage) chronicles the continuing adventures of the titular peeved hitman as he manages to fill in the first film’s biggest plothole: why didn’t he try and reclaim his car? But reclaim his car he does before the film has a chance to tell you what it’s called, but John isn’t out of the game yet. After proverbially having his arm twisted to re-enter the fold, John finds himself with pretty much everyone after him. Everyone has a grudge against him or a debt to pay, and John is stuck in an endless cycle of violence and hatred.
From this, Stahelski and returning-screenwriter Derek Kolstad use the impressive world of hierarchy, laws and economics only glimpsed in the first film as a jumping-off point for explaining why people kill each other in action movies. There is no easy way to pull the trigger for John, as each one sends him further and further into the complex dog-eat-dog politics of, ahem, the assassins creed. However fun the journey might be along the way, you’ve got to remember the very real consequences for our invincible hero.
"There is no easy way to pull the trigger for John, as each one sends him further into the dog-eat-dog politics of, ahem, the assassins creed"
But despite this unexpected moral undercurrent, Chapter 2 deals in pure crowd-pleasing. Remember that moment in the original where Michael Nyqvist’s Russian mobster villain tells his rat-bag son about how John Wick butchered three men in a bar with a pencil (“With a fuckin’ PENCIL!”)? That’s just one of many showstopping moments in the absolutely bananas sequel. A silhouetted gunfight in catacombs, a series of balletic fight sequences between Keanu Reeves and Common (the film’s unexpected MVP) and a finale set in a hall of mirrors that lead straight to Hell, it’s a roster of set-pieces where every single one of them somehow manages to be better than the first’s iconic nightclub scene. It feels like the film that Stahelski and co. should have known they were making first time round, that what they could do would be to majestically satirise action while making it straightforward, massively entertaining and minorly revolutionary.
Keanu delivers the goods like he always does, wearing a suit and popping off headshots with equal slickness, but the most notable cast member has to be Ruby Rose, who seems tailor-made for this franchise. Painfully cool without delivering a single line of spoken dialogue, she fits like a glove among a variety of returning characters, once again threatening to eclipse one another with their sheer awesomeness.
Pretty much The Raid 2 but shorter, Chapter 2 performs the task of going bigger without losing the thrills along the way, and it works like a charm. It could even be a new favourite.
More like this: Sabotage (2014)