Director: Chad Stahelski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio & Ian McShane
Synopsis: After returning to the criminal underworld to repay a debt, John Wick discovers that a large bounty has been put on his life.
Rating: 15 Duration: 122 minutes Release date: 17 February (UK)
Between a rock and a hard place is John Wick: Chapter 2. One of the unexpected treats of 2015 was seeing Keanu Reeves kill a lot of people as the eponymous hit man who was begrudgingly brought out of retirement after a group of Russian gangsters stole his car and killed his dog. That easy, and rather silly, premise allowed the audience to buy into that tale of revenge as we saw John Wick stylishly go about his business. Chapter 2 is then placed in an unforgivable position, the first film ended naturally, but audiences wanted more and in this time of franchises it was inevitable we would see more, luckily it’s all for the better.
Taking place shortly after the events of the first film we meet John Wick tracking down the Russian mobsters who stole his car the first time round. It’s a grand re-introduction as John Wick pursues his prey through New York City which culminates in an early stand-out fight which perfectly showcases his talents with and without a gun. It’s a largely wordless opening ten minutes and sums up everything that is great about this series. As our hero moves from one burly grunt to the next there is a vivid flow to the sequence that draws the audience back in and makes them feel comfortable to be back in this world of hit men and gangsters.
Action and visuals aside, the most endearing feature of these films is the sheer magnetism of its star. Many may point to Keanu Reeves as wooden or lacking charisma, but they are dead wrong. Now in his 50’s, Reeves has grown significantly as an actor and has a charming yet brooding nature where his talents lie not always in what he says, but the looks he give can say more than words ever could. It’s a skill that not every actor can possess and yet Reeves make it look almost easy. His John Wick moves Bond like from New York to Rome and back and never feels out-of-place in any locale, while his gun play and martial arts expertise show a dedication to the craft that makes it feel all the more authentic.
Supported by a more than able cast, John Wick: Chapter 2 expands on the lore of the first film and gives us just enough here without ever over egging proceedings. Ian McShane returns as the owner of the Continental and is allowed to positively chew the scenery anytime he is on-screen. Lance Reddick and John Leguizamo reprise their roles as the Continentals concierge and Wick’s old friend who happily repairs his damaged car, but the two would have benefited from more screen time. Common also appears as another hit man with a vendetta against John Wick for an earlier altercation. Ruby Rose steals the show as a mute assassin who, ironically, has some of the best lines in the film. Only Riccardo Scamarcio’s run of the mill villain has a Bond-lite feel and suffers from ever truly feeling menacing.
At times Chapter 2 stays too close to the original and those unimpressed by the first film will not be turned here. But, there is far too much going on here to dislike it. The various action scenes each feel unique and are shot in such distinctive ways that they beg to be seen again to pick out their intricacies. It also owes a lot to the classic revenge films of the 70’s in its tone and the martial arts epics that clearly shaped its beautiful flowing action scenes. It’s not perfection, but it’s close and makes the wait for Chapter 3 seem an age away.