Film Review: John Wick: Chapter 2

Lauren: I don’t care what anyone says: I’d much rather repeatedly kidnap Liam Neeson’s daughter than experience John Wick’s particular set of skills firsthand. Dude is scary.

Back in 2014, John Wick surprised me by blowing away the minimal expectations I had for a new Keanu Reeves driven action flick. The movie is violent, unrelentingly so, and I’m sure it’s difficult to stomach for those who get queasy at the mere thought of blood. But even the squeamish may fail to find it garish because of the motivation behind it. No one lays a negatively driven finger on a puppy and gets away with it! John Wick will make sure they suffer. And he will make sure we enjoy watching him do just that.

Speaking of dogs, when we last see Wick he is walking off into the vengeance soaked night with a new trusted companion at his side, and this is basically where we pick up in Chapter 2. Maybe just hours later, the beginning of this sequel starts off with Wick’s mission to bookend his first quest for vengeance, in what he believes will be the final actions to cut the ties to this old world once more. Arguably one of the best sections of this film, Wick holsters his gun for some bumper car fun, taking notes from Melissa McCarthy on how to properly survive an encounter or two with a moving vehicle as he hunts down the second thing he lost days prior, his Mustang.

I’d argue that the film is on a barely noticeable downward slide from here, but let’s get Zac’s thoughts before I get to that.

Zac: My thoughts involve politely disagreeing with you. As politely as Wick calls a truce after killing an entire henchmen army.

I think Chapter 2 just keeps getting better with each set piece topping the last, in both ideas and style. I’ll give you that Peter Stormare is a lot of fun in that opening, as is the hand to hand/car to body stuff, but I would have to argue each additional set piece brings something new to the table. Don’t get me wrong, you’d be hardpressed to find a scene that lives up to the first film’s club scene, but overall I might prefer Chapter 2 to the original.

Lauren: Gasp!

Zach: That’s right, I’m taking the sequel. I think Chapter 2 just really streamlines everything we like about these films; the world building and the shooting people in the face. And man, does John Wick shoot a lot of people in the face.

I do think the first film’s motivations are a better premise, by a mile, but what are you supposed to do to top that? Kill more dogs and wives? Do we know how his wife died yet, like for real? That has to be the Chapter 3 twist, right? Someone killed his wife to bring him back?

Lauren: Um… I always just assumed she died of cancer. If Wick could go after cancer in Chapter 3 that’d be great.

Zac: Still, I think the premise works here: how does Wick handle being back in a world he doesn’t want to be in? Not driven by raw vengeance and the processing of his grief through the violent mayhem he was hoping to escape, Chapter 2 sees a reluctant Wick just trying to get out from under anyone’s thumb. I bought it. And, with the way the film resolves, I think it reflects just how hard it can be to shake something that so defines you.

Lauren: You actually touched on my problem with this movie, the motivation. Everyone’s always talking about how depressing the opening of Up is as we get a brief glimpse into Carl and Ellie’s life together. It’s beautiful, touching, loving and tragic, but at least it’s full. At least I can stomach those bittersweet memories. Whereas with John Wick I can’t even watch the scene that starts it all. Seeing his puppy die once was bad enough, and the retribution he seeks is the retribution we demand as viewers. Every single death is necessary, every single death is satisfying. Every single death is for Daisy.

This movie doesn’t have a Daisy. Don’t get me wrong, thank God it doesn’t. I wouldn’t have been able to handle another death scene like hers. Repeating this would’ve been cruel, not to mention poor storytelling on the filmmakers part. Which is why I get that it is completely unfair to compare the motivation of the two films and say that the first is superior to the second because of it, yet here I am doing just that. I can’t help it.

All that said, I can’t say enough that Chapter 2 is still a great movie, story and all. The characters always talk about Wick like he’s some mindless killing machine, but the Wick we see is much more than that. He’s crestfallen, he’s tired, and most importantly, he’s human. A human capable of terrifying things, but still human.

I stand by the first action sequence being my favorite part of the film, but when I said the movie is on a barely noticeable downward slide from there I meant just that. The world is flat levels of barely noticeable. These movies know how to pace themselves, that’s for sure, and they know how to look pretty doing so. Maybe not as good as the club scene from the original, but it’s still easy to lose count of the sequences worth mentioning: the concert, John’s trip home, the museum, any scene with Common… It’s all great. Just maybe mix in another signature move. Even Zombieland’s rulebook is like: “We’re proud that you took rule #2 to heart, but you’re not fighting zombies. Cool it on the double tapping. Chest shot to head shot, chest shot to head shot, chest shot to head shot… We get it, dude.”

Zac: Wick can shoot whomever, wherever, and however many times he wants!

Where you have a bit of a problem with the action, I think all of the talky scenes might be a bit too talky…

(Lauren: Wick can talk to whomever he wants for however long he wants!)

…until the final confrontation, but the invention of some of the action scenes is too good to complain. The brilliance of Wick trying to get through NYC with a hit on his head was fantastic, and executed pretty damn well. The escape from the concert/party was perfectly set up beforehand so we kept expecting the next big weapon, and I thought the final set piece was just full of fantastic shots in that house of mirrors.

Also, these set pieces last forever and never get a bit old. The bad guys just keep coming and the script keeps on throwing one thing on top of the other. I still think the fight choreography can be a smidge sluggish at times…

(Lauren: Cuz of all the double taps)

…but I will take that any day if it is being presented in beautiful and sparsely cut wide-shots so I know what the hell is going on.

If I had to level any complaints, it would be the pointlessness of Laurence Fishburne’s presence, even if it is at the center of a fun little world building piece. Fishburne is fine and all, but he doesn’t really get to do much. Maybe in Chapter 3. The back and forth with Common was a little too convenient too, in that there is no way they couldn’t have taken one another out, but I think the film clearly knows it is having fun with these two.

That might be the film’s greatest asset: it knows exactly what it is, how ridiculous what we are seeing is, and that we are here to have fun reveling in the carnage. Yes, these are ultra violent films, but they are by no means a political statement or anything distracting like that. I can enjoy the show and still hold my beliefs on gun control. The film doesn’t attempt to exist in any reality; this is the world of John Wick, and I will keep coming back for more and more.

Lauren: As will I. I love this world. Yes it is a heightened world with its own code and language at times, but I love the way in which it manages to feel like it’s hidden right beneath the surface of ours. It’s that dichotomy between the mundane and abnormal, the dialogue to the actions taking place, the transitions from one set dressing to the next within one fluidly designed room, that makes this more than some stupid shoot-em-up that is as forgettable as the bullet casings left on the ground. These films make sure they are remembered.

Artfully lit blood, guts, and all.