John Wick: Chapter 2 opens with a mafia gang abandoning their warehouse because they have John Wick’s car in their inventory and don’t want to be caught with it. They are then caught with it. They are never seen nor heard from again.
That folks, is what I love most about these movies: John Wick embodies the badass hero to a ridicules degree; he’s Keanu Reeves at his most Keanu Reeves, feared by everyone and plot-armor invincible, yet at the end of the movie he’s got more bruises than skin on his body. Meanwhile, I’m left going, “yeah no, this works. He’d survive three car crashes like that because he’s John Wick.”
John Wick is the goddamn Boogyman, and everyone believes it so hard that I do as well. It’s fun and exhilarating and…
And then it gets boring for the next twelve to twenty minutes. John returns to his house and is immediately solicited by someone he owes a blood oath. Apparently killing an entire gang leaves the impression that you’re back to killing for money. This oath, by the way, involves the political killing of mafia leader that John is somewhat friends with. The person guarding said mafia leader is also someone he knows and is on friendly terms with. He’s stuck though, because blood oaths have to be kept under penalty of death.
It’s a pretty standard rock-and-a-hard place conundrum, and once the hit goes somewhat south and John has a seven-million dollar bounty put on his head, it all comes off as unnecessary.
Why didn’t the movie just start there?
Honestly, I blame the world building. John Wick introduced us to the assassin world right underneath the surface of our own, and it was wonderful and compelling. The Continental is awesome. Chapter 2 goes for more and spends too much time there. It takes away the fantasy and replaces it with, well, a bit more of the same and a gearing up scene that goes on for way longer than it needs to.
Do I buy the blood oath thing? Yeah. Do I think it’s good storytelling? Not really, no.
However, I can’t really fault the movie for its world building because once the bounty is in place, everything about the assassin world becomes interesting again. It all dives back underneath the surface. We get flashes of it, from John’s interactions with strangers to the actual people trying to kill him to the old-timey receptionists handling phone calls. It reverts back to being a mystery despite how much time we spent there earlier in the movie.
But this is John Wick: Chapter 2 and that means we’re here for shooty shooty bang bang; the rest is a bonus. The good news is that the movie absolutely delivers on that front. There is no bad news.
I adore John Wick as a fighter because there’s a deep level of characterization embedded in his fighting style. He’s methodical, smart, and just damn fun to watch. Like with the first movie, it’s all about the quick double taps, because John doesn’t take any risks. If he thinks someone is going to get back up and keep fighting, he’ll put another bullet in him.
This applies to every gun he uses, of which there are many.
This characterization through fighting extends to the other assassins as well. John Wick and the assassins around them are assassins first and pragmatics second. “Friend,” is somewhere in fourth or fifth place. It adds a chilliness to everyone in the movie, and it adds a small level of tragedy too. Had things turned out just a bit different, some of these characters might have been real friends and not dressed-up, water-cooler coworkers.
For those that do go after John (and there are more that don’t than do), it feels less like a grab at money and more like a grab at myth. John is the Boogyman, and only a new Boogyman can kill the old.
The best part though is the actual cinematography. Most Marvel movies have cuts every two seconds and become messy for it, but John Wick: Chapter 2 uses long, almost slow-moving shots as John plans ahead and then kills four or five people. You can see what’s going on, and you get a real sense of scale to both his environment and his abilities. The same can be said of his hand-to-hand combat, which adds weight to the punches and kicks while also making a certain pencil scene goddamned wonderful.
The environments are great too, ranging from big and open with lots of cars to jam-packed crowds. The last one takes place at a museum exhibit that’s one part M. C. Escher painting and three parts crazy carnival mirrors. It’s way more coherent than it has any right to be.
Finally, I want to give a nod to the audio work. Maybe it’s just that I’m not used to seeing movies on the big screen with massive surround-sound speakers, but damn did this movie sound great. The car chases are audibly frantic, and the bullets pack a serious punch. Every gunshot looks stylish and just feels awesome to watch. The punches, kicks, and stabs are equally rewarding.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is a great action movie that gets a bit too big for its own needs. It went from a simple revenge flick to a mafia power struggle with an expansive world, and it’s twenty minutes too long for it. Complexity is not its strong suit. Thankfully, once the first act is over, it goes back to shooty shooty bang bang, which is its strong suit.