When a film is awarded cult status, garnering a fervent following, it’s generally gained by productions not striving for such a reaction, as if picked up by accident. This makes any prospect a sequel somewhat challenging, and it’s a role taken on by Chad Stahelski, tasked with emulating what came before, except this time with the potentially hindering knowledge of what the fans respond to best, and most anticipate from this endeavour. It’s a fine line to walk, and with a minimum contrivance, it’s one this filmmaker has triumphed in with John Wick Chapter 2.
It all started with the death of a dog, and to be precise, it was the death of John Wick’s (Keanu Reeves) dog – which led to a savage rampage, as the skilled assassin went down the bloody path of vengeance on those who had wronged him. It was a return to the criminal underworld he had sought to leave, and it’s one he’s now been sucked mercilessly into yet again, when Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) puts a $7million bounty on his head. Living in a constant paranoia, forever looking over his shoulder, John Wick knows he’s going to have to defend himself against a whole myriad of bloodthirsty adversaries, each hoping to strike it rich. But you can never underestimate the sheer diligence, resourcefulness and downright ruthlessness of the target.
The bare minimum fans of the first would’ve hoped for is for this sequel to be unrelenting in its approach. That much is a given, as a fast-paced, high-octane thriller that begins with a car chase, and doesn’t let off from that point onwards, setting the tone for what’s to come. Naturally, the film is absurd in parts, with Peter Stormare’s Abram emblematic of this fact, but Stahelski is not striving for realism, this is a overtly cinematic endeavour that plays up lovingly to that notion, heavily influenced by Asian cinema in that regard. It helps matters a tremendous amount when you have a hero you can believe in, and given he’s placed in impossible circumstances, you adhere to his invincibility, fully on board with the fact he can defy the odds and kill absolutely anything in his way.
On a more negative note, the film isn’t quite as simplistic as the first, which followed an archetypal revenge plot formula, but with this bounty comes several antagonists, and the myriad of villains does get overbearing and a little complex in parts, as you can struggle to keep on top of it all. But then, when simplified, at its core this sequel is just another ‘one man versus’ narrative, and if you can see it purely on those terms, there is so much to be taken away. Though, in spite of enjoying this production, it can be accused of being somewhat too long, as by its very nature this franchise offers pure, throwaway entertainment, and the sort that has no real validation to surpass the two hour mark as this does. What transpires is a film that grows tedious in the middle stages, a little too repetitive as a film thriving predominantly in the fight sequences, which can be a challenge to sustain.
That all being said, and for the most part, the combative moments are indelible, particularly the street brawl between the eponymous hero and Common’s Cassian. There’s such an artistry to the conflict, which is so remarkably well choreographed. This can be especially hard to achieve when dealing with gun fights, in martial arts it’s like a dance, you expect it to look the part, but even with weapons, Stahelski has ensures there’s a true beauty to this brutality. This is representative of a film with an unwavering commitment to its stylised approach, as a visual experience that uses colours in a unique way that makes sure that this film, and this franchise, is separated from the usual fodder that belongs to this genre. Bring on the next one.