Upon its release, John Wick was a surprise hit. With its unrestrained violence and imaginative choreography, the film reaffirmed Keanu Reeves as a certified action hero and grossed $88m worldwide. Three years later, Chad Stahelski is back in the director’s chair for a second outing that is darker and more violent than its predecessor.
John Wick 2 takes place several days after the events of the first film, where the eponymous hero (played by Keanu Reeves) eventually makes his peace with the Tarasov crime syndicate. However, his actions do not go unnoticed as he is quickly called to assassinate a leading crime lord, drawing him back further into the life that he desperately wants to escape.
In a twist to the first film, writer Derek Kolstad flips the story where the hunter becomes the hunted. While the plot delves deeper into the criminal underworld, it shows that the events of the previous film have deeper repercussions than a few dead bodies. However, along with the glamour, this secret society begins to bear its teeth. Rather than the almost-collaborative and respective undertones seen in the first film, the ‘dog-eat-dog’ attitude of the hitman life becomes apparent. This sense of self-interest opens the audience’s eyes to what John Wick tried to escape, while its exclusiveness heightens the level of danger it poses to our hero.
This intensity of the underworld also highlights the complex power struggle between the supporting characters played by Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne and Riccardo Scamarcio. This side story shows the characters reaffirming their authority in this secret society, as well as allows the actors to take some of the limelight off Reeves, delivering performances with a sense of self-confidence that barely conceal the arrogance of their respective characters.
As for Reeves, he delivers a more intense performance as the reluctant assassin. While his athletic prowess has increased, so has his nostalgia to his settled life. Poignantly recollections of his late wife through photos and video serve as reminders to a life when he was free, which only become futile as his involvement in the plot only increases to an inescapable situation. However, his naivety doesn’t go unnoticed. Seeing what he underwent off-screen to escape his criminal lifestyle, the idea that he could be let off so easily is almost laughable. He is a well-known assassin with a high-ranking reputation, but did he think this was enough for the underworld to completely overlook his intense return to the life of a hitman?
Playing on the elements most enjoyed by fans, Stahelski has amped up the violence and imagination, delivering well-choreographed, authentic-looking combat scenes. Aided by supporting actors such as Common and Ruby Rose getting in on the action, the slick fight sequences create a feast for the eyes, allowing the adrenaline to drive the carry the film. Stahelski also makes great use of space, colour and light, with certain set pieces symbolising Wick’s desire to stay away from his past and the growing pressure to confront his demons, as well as the proverbial blood on his hands.
Overall, John Wick 2 delivers action, plenty of guns and a hint of class, providing the necessary action and narrative to develop this growing franchise.
Special features include:
- Audio commentary with Keanu Reeves and director Chad Stahelski
- Deleted scenes
John Wick 2 is out on DVD and Blu-Ray on 12 June 2017.
Director: Chad Stahelski, Derek Kolstad (scr.)
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Common, Ruby Rose, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio
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