John Wick Chapter 2 was the impossible sequel to write, so how did they do it?
The first film sat on a delicate balance of feeling like a parody of action movies, while still being a very exciting entry into the genre (much like Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead) but avoided going full parody. But that perfect confluence of factors had to have been just an accident coming from a main actor who is more popular in memes than films these days and from writers and directors who were former stuntmen. With John Wick Chapter 2, the point has been made; all of these people are very good at what they do, much like John Wick, himself.
John Wick Chapter 2 starts out in a way that gives you the impression that they are finally ready to take this story over the top into a land of goofy bad guys and rolling eye inducing one-liners. The film quickly returns back to the same pacing and attitude of the original, however, and the audience is put at ease. It has the same affect of expectations as the first film. From the plot summary, to the cast, to the poster itself John Wick promised to be a genre film destined to be forgotten amidst the vast sea of Jason Statham projects. The bar was quite low, which made it all the more shocking when the film exploded from both critics and fans alike. Balance was the key word for the first film. The opening minutes of John Wick Chapter 2 place the bar down low yet again, make it easy to enjoy everything that comes after it. In fact, it makes the opening scene a lot of fun in retrospect.
Everything that was likable in the first film is here in the sequel; the fight scenes are beautifully choreographed and authentic (we finally get to see Wick with a pencil), the overall tone of the film is steady and unique, and the cinematography is well above the average for this type of film. Chapter 2 deviates from the original slightly in 3 distinct ways that I noticed. Two of these were appreciated and helpful for the viewing where one detracted from it a bit.
Firstly the mythology of the society of assassins is opened up quite a bit in Chapter 2. This was expected and anticipated, and the film delivers on this quite well adding a few pieces and positions to the overall structure, but not quite so much that the film has to spend too much time explaining the mechanics. Another deviation from the first film was how the plot is moved ahead. It would have been quite easy for writer, Derek Kolstad, and director, Chad Stahleski, to simply rewrite a carbon coby of their first successful film, cast Dwayne Johnson in a supporting role, and cash in on their previous success; but they don’t. What drives John Wick in this film is quite different and has a very different vibe from the first. It remains true to the character but feels fresh and unlike a regurgitation. What I felt detracted from the film a bit was when it tried to become too big in its mythology in the final third. When these films are at their best it is when we are close to Wick, what he is doing, and why he is doing it. The beauty of the first film is that it didn’t have to explain hardly anything. We all saw how cute that dog was and who killed it. We just got to sit back and watch Wick be the Boogeyman. In Chapter 2 Wick enlists the help of the Bowery King, kind of like lord of the hobos, played by Laurence Fishburne. Their conversations cause a few bad flashbacks to the Matrix sequels but overall what makes them distracting is that it leads the film to a more complex place of having to describe and explain the motivations of the world in which Wick is operating. Where the first film gave you enough hints to understand everything fairly well, Chapter 2 crosses the line occasionally to holding your hand, looking straight at the camera, and having John Cusack explain what his top 5 greatest breakups are.
Is John Wick Chapter 2 perfect? No. Just like the first film it has a handful of moments that take it out of the running to be an art house film. Are they both fantastic action movies likely to be some day considered alongside the likes of Die Hard and Die Hard 2 : Die Harder (yes thats the actual title)? I believe so. Not sure what Chapter 3 will hold in store for us but I can tell you that I will be present upon its release, dressed in a black suit, with a pocket full of pencils.