John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) Review

"John Wick: Chapter 2" Korean Theatrical Poster

“John Wick: Chapter 2” Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Chad Stahelski
Writer: Derek Kolstad
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Bridget Moynahan, Lance Reddick, Thomas Sadoski, David Patrick Kelly, Peter Stormare, Franco Nero
Running Time: 122 min.

By Paul Bramhall

As a stuntman, it’s not every day the opportunity comes along to direct the actor who you’ve been doubling for the last 20 years, but that’s exactly what happened to Chad Stahelski, when he took the directorial reigns for the 2014 Keanu Reeves action vehicle John Wick. Stahelski first doubled for Reeves on 1991’s Point Break, and has continued to be his stunt double ever since, featuring in the likes of The Matrix trilogy, The Replacements, and Constantine. The pair have maintained a close working relationship, so when Stahelski founded the 87Eleven Action Design group (along with David Leitch, who co-directed John Wick) after his experience of working under Yuen Woo Ping on The Matrix, Reeves was the obvious choice for the leading man of their directorial debut.

In a market saturated by action movies intent on resorting to how many pixels can be destroyed onscreen, John Wick was a revelation, a lean and mean production that relied on bullets to the head and bones being broken rather than CGI spectacle, with Reeves delivering admirably. It wasn’t without its faults though, the brain numbing repetition of the Marilyn Manson track ‘Killing Strangers’ over an original score, and a rather limp finale, both made it fall short of being a certifiable classic in my opinion. But what it certainly did do, is give audiences an appetite to see more of John Wick, and in 2017, their wish has been granted.

Sequels are always a tricky proposition, and considering the originals wafer thin plot, which revolved around Wick seeking revenge for his murdered (is that the correct phrase?) dog, stretching the story of a retired hitman for a second instalment has plenty of room for error. Should the filmmakers go for (a) the Taken approach – have another one of his pets killed and have him seek revenge, or (b) go the Tom Yum Goong approach, and simply have the gangsters kill the dog he adopted at the end of the original, and recycle exactly the same story. Thankfully both Stahelski (this time minus Leitch) and original writer Derek Kolstad are back on board for Chapter 2, and while the plot is still flimsy, it does its duty perfectly well.

Essentially it can be boiled down to this – it’s revealed that when Wick left the hitman world behind, he did so with the help of a mafia boss (played by Italian actor Riccardo Scamarcio), and as per the hitman code of honour, he owes Scamarcio a marker – basically an IOU. What this event was and when it took place is never revealed, however when Scamarcio visits Wick out of the blue to claim his favour, Wick’s stubborn refusal to adhere to the rules quickly sees him in a world of pain. After a visit to the Continental, the hotel from the original which acts as a luxurious refuge for the hitmen of the world, the hotel manager (played by a returning Ian McShane) talks him around. It’s the code of honour after all. So Reeves sees himself on a plane to Rome, on a mission to fulfil his obligation – to assassinate Scamarcio’s sister.

Before we get to any of that though, John Wick: Chapter 2 gets straight down to business in a blistering initial scene, taking place even before the opening credits have rolled. In a sequence that fits in more action than Steven Seagal’s whole post-2000 filmography, Reeves lays waste to an endless stream of attackers in an old warehouse, breaking bones and cracking skulls like they’re going out of fashion. Reeves is beaten, knocked around, hit by a car, thrown out of his own car (which is the purpose of the scene by the way, to retrieve his stolen 1969 Mustang) and generally ends up on the receiving end of impacts that would put the average human in hospital for the rest of the year. But Stahelski uses the scene to put his cards on the table early on, much like the route that The Transporter 2 (successfully) took, Chapter 2 is going to give us super-John Wick. The action is going to be more exaggerated, more bloody, more brutal, and more lengthy. Take it or leave it.

For fans of action of course, this is a dream come true, but there is also an audience out there who won’t appreciate the ramped up action quota. Those same voices that didn’t appreciate Jason Statham having a fight in a free falling plane, probably will be the same ones that don’t appreciate Reeves ability to keep getting back up after being beaten half to death. However, my voice is not one of those, and while John Wick: Chapter 2 is definitely more pulpy than its predecessor, it’s arguably the only direction to go in. Writer Kolstad wisely decides to expand on the idea of having a hotel that caters to hitmen, here revealing it to be an international organization with branches across the globe. The hotel even has its own tailored-to-the-hitman’s-every-need set of facilities, from a gun showroom (where Reeve’s goes for a “tasting”) to a Kevlar lined suit bespoke tailor service.

When I first watched John Wick I’d noted how it was essentially an early Steven Seagal movie for the post-2010 generation. Just like Out for Justice, it even ended with Reeves taking care of a dog, a sign from above if ever there was one. I maintain that statement for Chapter 2. Here Reeves roams around the globe, but no matter where he goes everyone seems to know his name, such is his reputation for being the baddest ass on the planet. The difference of course is that Reeves has the moves to back up the huge respect the characters he bumps into silently bestow upon him. For the second round Reeves also shows the character to be adept in a variety of languages, happily conversing in both Russian and Italian without batting an eyelid. Maybe Seagal doesn’t bat an eyelid either, but it’s hard to tell behind those orange tinted glasses.

The action itself is a joy to behold, and is choreographed by J.J. Perry, another member of Stahelski’s 87Eleven Action Design group, heavily incorporating the use of Judo and Brazilian Jujitsu. Several action sequences show both influences and nods to other action classics, with one particular scene in the catacombs having Reeves plant guns along the way to use later, clearly referencing Chow Yun Fat’s similar scene in A Better Tomorrow. When the weaponry is called upon to be used, there’s an influence of the Scott Adkins one-man rampage in Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, as Reeves weaves in and out of the cave like structure, rarely taking his finger off the trigger. Perhaps the most recognizable nod of all though is the finale, which takes place in an art installation that includes a hall of mirrors. As Scamarcio taunts Reeves out of sight, the reference to Bruce Lee stalking Shek Kin in Enter the Dragon is a worthy one.

The supporting cast also provide plenty of action talent, with Reeves having two wonderfully protracted fights with rapper turned actor Common (they also notably played enemies in Street Kings), delivering some wince worthy impacts and falls. Current actress-of-the-moment Ruby Rose also gets a one-on-one against Reeves in a hallway, playing a deaf mute bodyguard to Scamarcio. Yes, Ruby Rose is to John Wick: Chapter 2 what Julie Estelle is to The Raid 2, only fails at coming across as either intimidating or dangerous. Away from the action front, Reeves and Laurence Fishburne reunite for the first time since 2003’s The Matrix Revolutions, meeting on a rooftop to share such lines as “So I guess you have a choice”. The nods to The Matrix may be obvious, but they come across as playful rather than cheap like in The Expendables series.  Plus, as the expression goes – when in Rome, cast Franco Nero in an extended cameo.

If there’s any detractor for John Wick: Chapter 2, it’s that Reeves’s acting performance pales in comparison to his action talents. With a remarkable number of his lines relegated to the likes of “yeah” and “sure”, rather than coming across as brooding, he instead feels a little flat. Indeed while we learn a lot about the world John Wick lives in, we don’t actually learn anything new about the character himself. He still watches videos of his wife via his phone and looks sad, and still treats his dog better than anyone else he meets. It would have been nice to add some additional characterisation, but as it is Reeves delivers a performance which mainly feels like filler to bring us to the next action scene. In this case, the action is so good that the wait is always well rewarded, however I do wonder how much it will stand up to re-watches. Minor gripes aside, there’s no doubt Reeves will get to announce “I’m back” for a third instalment, and when it hits, I’ll be there.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7.5/10

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9 Responses to John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) Review

  1. The first John Wick was overrated. I stand behind this 100%. I thought Jason Statham’s Safe (Chad Stahelski also worked on this) was a lot better. 🙂 Still, looking forward to seeing Chapter 2.

    • Paul Bramhall says:

      The first ‘John Wick’ was basically a re-make of Korea’s ‘The Man from Nowhere’. Just swap the girl for a dog.

      The second is much more of a movie in its own right, and looks like Stahelski learnt a lot since making the original.

  2. Toad Style says:

    Thoroughly enjoyable film. It was great to see in the theater to enjoy audience winces, laughs, and gasps. Plus – he uses a pencil.

  3. This film was fantastic. While I wasn’t a big fan of the stuff in Rome, I loved the world building stuff and the action scenes were amazing. While this is as good as the first film, it is a worthy sequel. I am glad that it is doing well at the box office so that we can get a third film.

  4. JJ Bona says:

    I rate this film same same as the first, a 6.5/10. The final act makes up for a pretty much dull action movie. The whole “bam, bam, bam… *tilt gun up/down*… bam, bam, bam… *break neck*” (repeat over and over again while overpowering music is playing) thing got old quick, just as it did in the original… very repetitive… There’s some inventive editing towards the end (John Wick fights a pack of assassins, but before we see what happens to each fight result, he moves on… while the reveal of all these fights are grouped in one, bundled edit).

    Reeves’ wooden acting is a given, so I wasn’t too bothered. Action-wise, there’s some good stuff, but even when it reaches its peak, I’ve seen better films that are much more rewarding (The Raid 2, Man from Nowhere, I Saw the Devil, etc). The action in BOTH films have a good rhythm, but they lack intensity and feeling…

    I honestly don’t see why people go nuts over these John Wick films. For me, totally overrated. More power to ya if you enjoyed them.

    • HKFanatic says:

      I can see where you’re coming from, JJ, with the whole “*tilt gun up/down* bam bam” thing. I know I felt somewhat fatigued from it on my first viewing, particularly during the museum shootout at the end. But I think there’s a lot of kinetic stuff in the sequel that makes up for it, particularly that opening scene where Keanu – sans gun – engages in some more hand to hand combat and grappling. And the fight scene with Common? That was one of the best fight scenes I’ve seen in a Hollywood movie in the last 17 years, easy.

      But the movies you mention, particularly The Man From Nowhere and I Saw the Devil, are masterful films – superb directing, acting, action choreography, and they have some real substance behind them. John Wick to me is, first and foremost, a project conceived by stuntmen to show off their skills and try to make Hollywood action scenes relevant again. In that regard, I think they’ve massively succeeded. I’ll even give the edge to John Wick over The Raid 2 simply because I feel like they give you more reason to care about John Wick’s character than anyone in The Raid 2.

      • Paul Bramhall says:

        “John Wick to me is, first and foremost, a project conceived by stuntmen to show off their skills and try to make Hollywood action scenes relevant again.” – Completely agree with this, along with your opinion that, looking at them from such a perspective, they do exactly what they set out to.

        But ‘John Wick’ better than ‘The Raid 2’!? You’re getting controversial! ‘John Wick 2’ better than ‘The Raid’, I still wouldn’t agree with this, but would be willing to accept it. However to say that the original ‘John Wick’, which had a wafer thin storyline bolstered by some neat action which fizzled out at the end, is better than ‘The Raid 2’, which provided an epic tale of gangsters with a series of escalating action sequences that build up to a balls to the wall finale, I just can’t buy.

      • JJ Bona says:

        HKFanatic: Family no more.

        Judging from your reply, you know that slogan.

        But honestly, John Wick/John Wick 2 feels more like a music video with some fight scenes that never get intense enough. Even when you see blood or gore, it feels like…. air. Light on impact. Hollow. Maybe if they’d turn down the music and up the sound effects or something…

        ‘John Wick’ better than ‘The Raid 2’… I agree, they match as far as giving a sh*t about characters, but give me 5 seconds of any fight scene from The Raid 2 any day.

        I’m not hating on the John Wick franchise, I just think it’s overrated. That’s all.

  5. Mulligan says:

    I love this movie as well. I thought it had great action and done quite well. I even felt that Keanu Reeves revived himself and his career a bit doing this movie.

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