Films with assassins at the heart of their story are tricky animals. Often hard to pin down in terms of tone and style, the niche sub-genre of the assassin action film is filled with missteps, absurdities, and the occasional gem. In 2014 however, one character based film broke new ground. John Wick went hell for leather on style, substance, and shooting. Its sequel John Wick: Chapter Two betters its predecessor in nearly every way.
Keanu Reeves returns to a role that, in this humble writer’s opinion, will outclass his character Neo in the Matrix trilogy if it hasn’t already. Whereas the Matrix often relied too much on Reeves’ stoicism and not on his ability to portray melancholic rage, the John Wick films are adept at portraying both. After his house is destroyed by Italian mobster and assassin cardinal Santino D’Antonio, (Riccardo Scamarcio) John Wick once again finds himself on the warpath in the assassin underworld.
John Wick only ever hinted at the enormity of the underworld this massive cabal of assassins operated in. In Chapter Two they have a regulating body, the High Table; a more developed economy based on gold coins and a global system of suppliers and hoteliers that cater to every assassins’ needs. Everyone is involved in this world, from arms dealers to tailors and mapmakers. Without this extra layer of depth, Chapter Two would just come across as more of the same. Even so, it is in its violent yet elegant fight choreography where the John Wick series stands out.
Director Chad Stahelski, once one of Reeves’ stunt doubles on the Matrix, makes the brutal beautiful in John Wick: Chapter Two. Two-thirds of the film’s two-hour runtime are stuffed full of heavily armed men in suits shooting, stabbing, and beating the living shit out of each other. From rapper Common’s intense performance as professional bodyguard Cassian to Ruby Rose’s disappointing turn as the mute enforcer Ares Stahelski makes every fight scene look like ballet regardless of his actor’s talents.
Of course, the best moves are reserved for Keanu Reeves and the exceptional stunt team backing him up. Whether it’s kicking a man repeatedly in just his shins or pinning someone to the ground with an unloaded shotgun before loading the gun and shooting the still pinned man with it, Chapter Two has something for every action fan. The film never lets up, always building from one shoot-out to the next. Thought the catacombs of Rome were boring? You won’t after witnessing the strobe-lit shootout in them. Unimpressed by halls of mirrors? John Wick will make you impressed.
John Wick: Chapter Two is breath-taking in its scope and slick in its stylishness. It is the most cohesive, visceral, and fan-fucking-tastic action film in recent memory. Its characters feel well-rounded and the script never lets up for a moment. Even in its quiet moments, Keanu Reeves’ silent tragedy tugs on the heartstrings. The Keanussance is the most rewarding revival of an actor’s career I’ve ever seen. Long may it continue! Andrew Carroll