Superior action films are few and far between, but Keanu Reeves has landed himself another gun-toting franchise every bit as shamelessly over-the-top as his Matrix movies.
In much the same way as The Bourne Identity and The Raid, 2014’s John Wick crept up on audiences like a silent assassin and showed the numerous pretenders how to deliver the goods.
Its no-nonsense approach, flab-free economy and sense of its own ridiculousness singled out Chad Stahelski and David Leitch’s visually arresting original. In keeping with the unwritten rule of movie sequels, Chaper 2 amps up its predecessor’s unique selling points and expands the focus of the world it created.
While not quite in the same class as its forebear, the second chapter in the story of “the man, the myth, the legend” is still better than it has any right to be and offers enough balls-out action to satisfy any bloodthirsty cinemagoer.
Picking up shortly after the events of the first film, assassin John Wick (Reeves) is trying to return to the retirement he had been pulled out from following the murder by Russian mobsters of his puppy, a gift from his terminally ill wife.
The bargain he struck to get out of the game comes back to haunt Wick when he is given no choice by Italian crime lord Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) but to honour a blood oath and travel to Rome to take out a member of the ‘high table’, a council of high ranking crime kingpins.
Unsurprisingly, such a hit carries its own consequences and soon Wick is having to use all of his skills to fight his way out of the hellish nightmare he’s found himself in.
Right from the off, Chapter 2 cranks up the action (often filmed in pleasingly long takes for added effect) and rarely takes its foot off the gas over the course of its 122 minute running time. The immediate aftermath of the original is dealt with swiftly as Wick takes back his beloved Mustang car from Russian gangster Abram Tarasov (Peter Stormare in one of those ‘one-dimensional foreigner’ performances he gives from time to time) – a sequence that allows for much motor mayhem.
The sequel settles into its groove with Wick’s arrival in Rome, a second act that owes more than a passing debt to Bond as the assassin visits numerous Q-esque contacts to tool himself up for the task ahead.
The celebrated night club shoot-em-up from the first film gets a fresh coat of paint here as Wick goes to work on a gamut of gun-wielding goons at an elaborately staged concert. Refreshingly for a film of this ilk, while there’s no denying Wick’s superhuman ability to wipe out countless red shirts, the impact of each blow he receives gradually wears him down to the extent that, come the end, he’s virtually staggering to get away, his face cut to ribbons.
The world constructed around its leading man is one of the film’s strongest assets and Chapter 2 takes the time to invest further, giving extra running time to Ian McShane’s Winston, owner of New York’s Continental hotel where blood-letting is a strict no no.
McShane is, as always, great value and isn’t the only memorable supporting player. Lance Reddick stands out as concierge Charon, while Reeves’ Matrix co-star Laurence Fishburne (looking like Brando and Welles in the latter stages of their life; i.e. large) gnaws at the scenery with a wildly exaggerated performance (“somebody PLEASE get. This. Man. A gun.”).
While we didn’t realy need to see the pencil trick he’s famous for, the high gloss brutality of John Wick: Chapter 2 bodes well for the insanity guaranteed in the inevitable third act.