John Wick Chapter 2
John Wick: Chapter 2 opens with an action sequence that puts most other action films to shame, and that's before the opening credits have even rolled. It's a quick way to put to shame other action films that can't even produce one interesting sequence in their entire runtime.
Picking up not long after the first film ended, Wick (Keanu Reeves) has just finished wrapping up the final loose end on his revenge tale. He's back at home, he has a new dog, and he's ready to retire this life once and for all-- again. However, a knock on the door and a visit from an old friend, Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), soon brings things crashing back down around John. Santino requests John honour a blood oath of sorts. Santino has a medallion that, within the secret order of hit-people in this world, means John must honour Santino's one request to be clear of debt. John though, foolishly declines the request, pushing Santino to force John to do what he wants and once again dragging John back into the world he's been trying to escape from. He's guessing he's back.
John turning down Santino is one of the stupidest writing decisions in Chapter 2. Sure, it's an excuse for John to once again be forced back into action, but it makes John look stupid. Especially when he looks generally surprised with what Santino does to make him do what he wants. It makes John look stupid, but John isn't stupid, and this is just a stupid plot decision to move John forward and into a high-octane adventure with a high body count to Rome and back.
Chapter 2 is at it's best in Rome where John plans and executes on the target Santino has charged him with taking out. We get to see more of this underworld, and how this hidden world of hitmen and hitwoman works, as well as how it works on a global scale. Yes, there are more hotels around the world like the one in New York where members can be on safe ground and aren't allowed to spill blood. Yes, there is secret Bond-like weapon makers and suit designers. Seeing John gather from the various different characters, plan out his attack and the execute gives you a better idea of how he did these jobs in the past, prior to leaving the organisation.
The catacombs and above them in some sort of ruins where a nightclub is being held makes for the most interesting sequence of the movie. Visually Rome is just wonderful to look at, but also the more close quarters terrain makes John taking down his enemies here more tension filled as they appear to come from all directions. John also first fights Cassian (Common) here who is by far my favourite new character introduced in Chapter 2.
Every punch, kick, throw and bullet fired in Chapter 2 lands with the right amount of velocity and sound. The fights are choreographed to allow for wide angle shots as the actors -- and most of the time Reeves himself -- just perform the action, and it's visually impressive. Chad Stahelski once again proving he knows what he's doing when it comes to directing action after years of stunt work. He knows what'll look good in a shot, how to frame it and when to cut away, which is a lesson most action directors in Hollywood specifically need to learn.
Dan Laustsen photographs wonderfully here and Chapter 2 looks more impressive, real and beautiful. It's full of colour and compared to the first with its more dreary grey and cement coloured theme of New York, it's refreshing.
Written again by Derek Kolstad, he expands upon the neo-noir underground world he created in the first film. The expanded world-building is great, the characters however still need to be worked on and I don't just mean John's stupid decision at the start of the movie that is out of character. Laurence Fishburne's Bowery King has about fifteen minutes of screen time and he rocks it. I can't wait to learn more about that character in the sequel, however, there is a lack of good female characters in Chapter 2. Ruby Rose plays the female lead and although she does about as much as she can with the character, seeing as she's mute, the main amount of females are seen working in a call centre that rewires contracts around the network. Yes, the majority of the film's females are relegated to being call centre workers.
By the time the final showdown between Wick and his new arch-nemesis arrive, it's rather disappointing. Whereas the opening scene till this moment had offered new and exciting locations and fight choreography as well as shoot-outs, this was something I had seen before, in countless movies. Especially compared to the Rome stuff which had felt so fresh and interesting, the final fight had to be held in a boring stadium.
(note: not a spoiler, that's 'stadium, as in the venue of choice)
The actual ending, or as it really feels an epilogue, is the perfect wrap up to Chapter 2. It sets up Chapter 3 with such intrigue for the viewer. Just when you may have been starting to grow tired of watching Keanu Reeves beat and shoot the crap outta people, you just wanna see it all keep going for another two hours.
John Wick: Chapter 2 mainly improves on the formula from the first film. It's more non-stop action with Keanu Reeves at his best. Several scenes had me grinning ear-to-ear from the sheer joy I was having and the adrenaline rush was amazing. A little more work on the characters over the world-building, however, will do wonders, especially going into Chapter 3.