An understandable reaction to seeing the words “sequel” and “John Wick” together in a sentence could be fear and disappointment that the brilliant and singularly-minded 2015 Keanu Reeves vehicle is the latest victim of the gentrifying monster that is the Hollywood franchise. John Wick was one of the bright spots, along with Mad Max Fury Road, in a summer that was dominated by the sterile dross of Jurassic World, Terminator Genysys and Entourage: The Movie. it only takes about 2 minutes for Chad Stahelski to make it clear that this sequel isn’t the stuff of other franchises, and indeed about twenty minutes in the film, makes a throw down to the Wheadons, Snyders and Russos of the world, almost taunting in showing them the brilliance that a franchise movie can truly achieve.
John Wick: Chapter 2 starts, Quantum of Solace style, almost immediately after the conclusion of the first movie. In a bravura opening sequence, Keanu Reeve’s eponymous hard man ties up the loose ends of the first film. No sooner is he bonding with his new pooch and getting his chair fixed up that he’s visited by an Italian crime lord (Riccardo Scarmarcio), who calls in a blood oath. In some brilliant world building the film wastes no time in laying out a scenario that leaves Wick with precious little options but to get back to whuppin’ ass, though transatlantic this time, with a large portion of the film taking Reeves to that playground of Fellini and Sorrentino, the eternal city itself, Rome. While this could initially be construed as a pointless show of force by the filmmakers it ends up being one of the massive delights of John Wick: Chapter 2. Much of the action in Rome takes place in the ruins and architecture that represent Rome’s faded history and this sets the stage for some of the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous production design I’ve seen this year. John Wick is what could almost be described as a “pit crew movie”, in the sense that the stars of the film are its background team. The sequences set in Rome are clearly testaments to just how much Kevin Kavanaugh (production design) and Dan Lausten (cinematographer) have mastered their respective crafts. Shadows dance against ruined marble, and light dances and reflects off neon surfaces, casting the leads into an almost surreal new light. Almost every movement into a new location leaves you salivating at how much fun you’re going to have in finding out how the filmmakers are going to frame, light and block the next scene. Without getting too technical, this is some of the finest misé en scene that you’ll find in a cinema today.
Though this sequel doesn’t have the same director as the first outing, Chad Stahelski has just an acute understanding of visual language as his predecessor. This is no doubt helped by having an editor, Evan Schiff, who understands the philosophy of the film, as all great editors do, and keeps the cuts minimal, allowing the action of flow gracefully across the scene. The crew behind Wick must surely count their blessings every day that they have a star as dedicated (and indeed robust enough) to perform his own stunts. Most of the fight scenes are a near perfect fruition of crisp editing and perfect choreography that somehow, amazingly, never feels like its showing off too much. It’s worth mentioning the film’s music cuts as well, which alternate’s from swirling classical to pulsating techno. These diverse cuts that add a sense of fanfare to the proceedings.
It’s fair to say that the film indulges in enough ludicrousness to avoid ever taking itself too seriously. A big part in selling this is the film’s various performances, with Keanu Reeves and Lawrence Fishburne in particular hamming it up and turning in performances in the same vein as Ralph Fiennes recent re-invention as a comic actor. Admittedly the acting in this film is mere window dressing to the action set pieces, but the effect is still nice and it helps to add depth to the world the producers are trying to create.
Without spoiling too much, John Wick: Chapter 2 concludes with a layup for the series third installment, not an entirely unwelcome prospect. While the John Wick series might lack the mastery of direction and the visionary brilliance that built Leone’s Dollar’s trilogy, I have enough faith that the third installment should carry it over the touchline and into the annals of action movie greatness. If there’s one thing to take away from this film, it’s that we’re two-thirds of the way towards Wickean – shorthand for a ballet of bullets and bloodshed – entering popular lexicon.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is in cinemas now.
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