JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 Review: 6 out of 10 (A Belabored Bloody Ballet)
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 is directed again here by former stuntman Chad Stahelski and written by Derek Kolstad. A sequel to the 2014 film John Wick, which I liked quite a bit, the sequel stars Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo and Ian McShane. The initial film was high on style and action and a bit lacking in substance but was a hell of a lot of fun. Can a sequel capitalize on the first film and offer us a bit more of *who* John Wick is? What makes him tick? Why is he such a bad-ass? Or is it just more of the same, albeit awesome, slick gunplay and action set pieces?
Unfortunately, this film is just more of the same, and what *is* here actually is some better, and some worse. Wick is called back into action as an assassin due to some old debts unpaid from his former life. When the marker is called in, Wick is forced to choose his old life of blood and guns. The underground life of the assassin that these films have created is fun to experience--from the rules that govern them, the suppliers that offer their tools of the trade, and the Continental Hotel that acts as a safe haven. The world of JOHN WICK: C2 is clever and well crafted. Furthermore, the slick visuals and stunt work are back in buckets. From colorful lighting, extravagant sets, and beautiful camera work, the action of JOHN WICK: C2 is like gunplay ballet. It is a gorgeous film to behold, although some sets seem a bit silly, including a dressing room in the catacombs of Rome for an Italian gangster debutante that also includes a giant stone bathtub. One outstanding sequence is certainly a nod to Bruce Lee's ENTER THE DRAGON that "mirrors" it in plenty of ways. I particularly liked Ruby Rose here as a mute assassin chasing Wick down. She is a star to watch.
Where the film falls down a bit is in classic sequel form. In the initial film, the audience can't be sure how far Wick can or will go. Can he survive? How tough is he? In CHAPTER 2, that is never really in question. Wick is never truly in peril and seems to take four times the punishment with far less damage. Some of this is explained away by his gear, but the film gets nearly laughable in a few sequences due to the punishment Wick takes and gets up from. Worse yet, Wick is a killing machine and the sequel here seems to just think if they amp up the body count it improves the film. The baddies literally line up dozens at a time to be shot by him, like an action film meat grinder. By the final act, I was worn down by watching so many faceless goons being summarily killed, none of which seem to have good enough aim to shoot John Wick in the head. This cliché is one that any action film might use, but here it is overdone by the midway point. All of this happens with very little advancing of the main character's arc. Keanu Reeves here is impressive as an action star, no doubt. But the script doesn't really show us much more of who he is beyond the grieving reluctant assassin we knew in the first film.
The movie has at least three endings, the last of which is an overly long set-up for the next film. And though the world of the JOHN WICK is compelling, the character is likely less so by the second film. I would probably be interested in seeing adventures in the assassin world of JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 in the future, but I am not sure I need John Wick to be in them. Action fans will certainly appreciate the set pieces, visuals, and bloody ballet that the film offers, but just don't expect much more than that.