When John Wick dropped quietly into theaters in October of 2014, the action film appeared, on the surface, to be a paycheck role for Keanu Reeves, coming off of flops like 47 Ronin and The Day the Earth Stood Still. However, the film found an audience over the course of its release, and found more of an audience on home video. Unlike several by-the-book and PG-13 action offerings, John Wick was a hard-R, rip roaring action thrill ride directed by Chad Stahelski, a former stuntman and kick-boxer who doubled for Reeve in The Matrix. The film was exciting, fun and made Keanu Reeves look like a legitimate badass, perhaps more than any previous point in the now 52-year-old actor’s career, not the mention its spawning of a Migos track of the same name.
While the first film’s ending left the weary hitman ready to retire to a peaceful life in solitude, Wick does not even get a full day of rest when gangster Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) comes a calling with a blood marker. The marker means, according to the rules that frame the world of hitman and assassins in which Wick operates, that the person whom receives it must accomplish a task from the person giving the marker, regardless of what that task may be. To say John Wick is reluctant to honor the marker is an understatement, but he cannot refuse as he’ll risk being banished from the Continental, a worldwide network of professional killers introduced in the first film, which would result in certain death.
John Wick’s situation only continues to worsen as the film goes on, and the hitman who just cannot seem to stay retired dispatches scores of goons and toughs along the way. The toughest of his adversaries include Cassian (Common), a bodyguard working for Santino’s sister, and Ares (Ruby Rose), a tattooed mute who lives up to her name with her eagerness to fight.
All the while, the film expands on the bizarre yet fully realized world and circles that John Wick runs in, as Wick finds himself in places like the catacombs of Rome, an elaborate network of panhandling assassins in New York and, most strikingly, a beautiful hall of mirrors. One thing that makes the Wick films so notable are the stylized fight scenes happening in unusual and interesting places, and the second installment uses lighting and striking colors that often hearken back to classic Italian horror to wonderful effect.
Fans of the hard-boiled original will certainly eat up a second serving of John Wick, especially with the star, director, and writer Derek Kolstad all returning. Those who haven’t seen the first film will have no trouble picking up on the second, though if you haven’t seen the first one you really should get on that. John Wick Chapter 2 is more of what made the first one so great. The only, minor, complaint is that the new film, at over two hours, drags ever-so-slightly in a couple places. That said, once the credits started to roll this critic was ready to begin Chapter 3.