John Wick: Chapter Two SPOILER-FREE Review
I have been looking forward to seeing John Wick: Chapter Two ever since I saw the first one. I never caught the original in theaters, but I saw it on Blu-Ray and loved it. It was a breath of fresh air in the action film world, and Keanu Reeves really shined in the role. You can read my full review for the first film here. So ever since I saw the original, I've been excited for Chapter Two. And from the trailers we've seen, it looked like they were going right back to what made the first one so great. It's small and personal. Reeves isn't a superhero, rather he's just a man who's extraordinarily talented. I was also excited to hear that one of the directors of the first film, Chad Stahleski, would be returning. The direction was one of the most surprising elements of John Wick, because Stahleski and David Leitch were making their transition from being stunt men to directors. I remember thinking when I first heard this "How are stunt guys going to be able to direct a film?". But it worked beautifully, because they were able to design and craft the film around the capabilities of the stunts, which is one of the most important aspects of the film. All in all, I couldn't wait to see the sequel, and it didn't disappoint. While I think the first one is ultimately the better film, John Wick: Chapter Two is a worthy follow-up that further develops the story, gives us more great action, and adequately sets up a sequel without ruining the experience of this one.
After the events of the first film, John Wick (Reeves) is officially ready to retire. But when someone from the past returns to cash in a blood-binding favor, Reeves is forced back into action, and goes down a path he doesn't necessarily want to take.
I was never a big fan of this film's subtitle, Chapter Two. I just thought it sounded stupid. But when you watch this movie, it absolutely makes sense. This one picks up pretty much immediately after the events of the original John Wick, and is undoubtedly the second chapter in this overarching story. So that was a gripe I had from the beginning that was quickly settled. In the same sense that this is the second chapter, it feels like you never left the theater after the first one. While the story does change and new characters are introduced, the aesthetics of Chapter Two are pretty much identical to the original. The color palette, the action choreography, the costume design, the music-- it all feels exactly the same. That kind of continuity is something I look for and appreciate in sequels. It's the reason why I like Iron Man 2 more than Iron Man 3. While Iron Man 3 may be the better standalone film, Iron Man 2 felt like more of an Iron Man movie, and thus I appreciated it more than seemingly renegade third film. John Wick: Chapter Two brings back all the stand-out and important elements that made John Wick what it was, and that was something I was glad to see. Also, in my opinion, Chapter Two improves upon the action from the first film. One of my criticisms of the original was that it was all gun-play, and there was practically no hand-to-hand combat, which is my preference for action movies. With Chapter Two, we immediately get some fist fights, and it looks great. We get more diversity in the kind of action we see, ranging from shoot-outs to car chases to fist fights. The action in John Wick, while fantastic, did get a little repetitive, so it was good to see this kind of diversity.
The supporting cast was all great. It was good to see Ian McShane and John Leguizamo return, but I thought the new supporting characters were even better. Common was great as a blood-thirsty henchman, and there are some fantastic fight sequences between him and Reeves. But Laurence Fishburne's role as the Bowery King was fantastic. I am a huge fan of The Matrix, and it brought a smile to my face to see Fishburne and Reeves reunite. And Fishburne wasn't just playing a Morpheus-type character just to hit home the reference-- he was actually his own, completely unique character, and it absolutely worked for the film. I really hope we get to see Fishburne return for Chapter Three. One of my favorite elements of the original film was the Continental, the assassin hotel. It was cool and mysterious, and it added a deeper level to the film that hinted at a larger mythology. With Chapter Two, they really expand on this assassin underworld, and we learn a lot more about the Continental. There's always risk of diminishing the intrigue of the unknown by giving us new details, but it was the complete opposite in this case. All the world-building they did involving this assassin underground only intrigued me more. It was very well done, and it only seemed natural. It didn't feel like they were forcing anything, or making things larger than they should have been. All the expansion behind the Continental felt organic, and that's all you can really hope for.
I do have some criticisms, however. I don't think the story for this movie was as dynamic as the first one. Don't get my wrong: John Wick did have a pretty shallow story, but it worked for the context of the film. The first one was a straight-up revenge film. John Wick is beaten, his dog is killed, and his car is stolen. You have vindication for why he does what he does, as well as drive. With this one, there is an understandable motive for John Wick's actions, but it's not nearly as strong as the first one. I don't think it took much away from the film as a whole, but it just wasn't as effective as the original. I also didn't think that the villain, played by Riccardo Scamarcio, was as good of a villain as we got in John Wick. He was just kind of there. We had a few exposition lines that told us his motivation, but we didn't really see anything that allowed us to connect to his character in any way. His lead body guard, Ares (Ruby Rose), was also pretty flat. I wouldn't go as far to say that she ruined the movie, but she did detract from the scenes she was in. She just didn't fit into this world nearly as well as some of the other characters did, like Common or Fishburne.
Overall, if you liked the original John Wick, then you'll probably like John Wick: Chapter Two. It has the same feel and aesthetic as the first one, and even improves upon the action. We get to see bigger set pieces and a larger diversity in action, without it getting too big for its own right. It excels at world-building, and making the mystery surrounding the Continental all the more compelling. All the supporting characters are great, with Laurence Fishburne especially standing out as the Bowery King. However, John Wick's motivation in this film wasn't nearly as strong as with the first film, nor was the story as dynamic. The villain also wasn't nearly as compelling as with the first film, and he was far underdeveloped. Ultimately, John Wick: Chapter Two's positives outweigh its negatives, as this film gives us a very solid follow-up to the 2014 surprise hit. I am especially excited to see what they do with Chapter Three.
What do you think? Have you seen John Wick: Chapter Two? Did you like the film? Leave your (spoiler-free) thoughts in the comments section below.
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