Baba Yaga returns… and the only ones happy about it are sitting in the audience.
When last we left John Wick (Keanu Reeves), he came out of retirement to right a wrong… taking it up to the Gates of Hell itself. Foolishly hoping to slip back into quiet retirement again, an old acquaintance named Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) calls in a marker — something that isn’t refused. When John refuses anyway, Santino levels his house, but Continental hotel owner Winston (Ian McShane) reminds John one can neither violate the marker in revenge nor its holder until it has been cleared, or else his life is forfeit. Accepting the marker and the task to clear it, John departs to Italy to assassinate Santino’s sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini), a political move that will grant him power. Fulfilling the contract clears the marker… as well as the way for John to take revenge. Of course, he’ll still have to go through every assassin in the New York area to do it…
Survivors of the original John Wick film are joined by a few new faces (Common, Peter Stormare, and Laurence Fishburne to name a few), but for a one-shot underground action thriller that didn’t find its legs until after its theatrical run, where could it go from there? With a Bond-esque opening sequence tidying up loose ends from the previous film, the sequel is tasked to launch its title character on another adventure, find a way to make it personal, and expand the rich tapestry of their world of assassins. Moreover, will a new installment and bumped budget add to the story or undermine the original movie as too many unplanned sequels tend to do?
Good news, everyone: the sequel works! Not only has the story world been expanded to feature how far the guild’s reach actually goes (even borrowing a bit from Kingsmen as well as a few other killer franchises), but it shows off just how networked and off-the-grid the network can get. While we only get a few glimpses of the inner works of the unnamed guild, it’s a treat of production design to see modern folks using retroactive and outdated technologies in a new and breathtaking way — can we call this Noir-Punk? Of course, a hero (if you can call John Wick that) is only as good as his enemies, and the deck is very much stacked against him in the most seamless, single-take combat sequences we’ve seen since the original film.
Unfortunately, that is also the film’s flaw. While the world-building and mutual-revenge plotline is suitably complex, the fight sequences go on a bit too long and a bit too often. Unlike the restraint of the original movie, the new fights become exhausting, even to the point where it’s hard to pay attention. Sure, we get it, John’s a machine… but our eyeballs and attention spans are not. Many such combats could have used a better editor to cut down these sequences and tighten them up the way the story scenes are expertly trimmed; is it too much to suggest a director’s cut to do exactly that? Unfortunately, we’ll most likely get an extended cut — probably not the best idea.
With all the new revelations, clever guild-craft, and old contacts being rekindled, the movie makes no secret it’s setting up at least a third installment. An enjoyable enough expansion, folks, but take care providing too much of a good thing. With the newness gone, story elements need to balance out, and the audience being left to feel like they were the ones beat down and left for dead is a no-no. So, until next time: be seeing you, John Wick.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is rated R for strong violence throughout, some language, brief nudity, and a plethora of bullet holes.
3 Skull Recommendation Out of Four