‘John Wick: Chapter 2’: Why It’s an (Almost) Perfect Action Sequel
When John Wick first hit theaters in 2014, audiences and critics didn’t quite know what to make of it. The visionary action flick was everything that the genre at the time wasn’t: cohesive, visually compelling, and short on quick cuts, opting for a single-shot steady-cam approach. More than that, it was a breath of fresh air from action franchises that cut 10 times to show a single punch being thrown.
John Wick‘s refreshing approach to the genre was noticed in a big way, netting a massive $86 million box office take on a scant $20 million budget. It was only a matter of time until a sequel was green-lit, and so, John Wick: Chapter 2 was born. The follow-up effort had a tough act to follow, but in the end, it managed to measure up and then some. How exactly did it accomplish that though? We dive in below.
1. Justifying its own existence as a sequel
The tallest order any sequel has is justifying its existence in the first place. The first John Wick film wasn’t exactly an open-ended affair by the time the credits rolled, and you can bet a follow-up wasn’t on the table until it made a metric butt-ton of cash at the box office. So then, that makes the question of quality a simple one: Is there more story to be told, or is it a simple cash-grab with no substance? Thankfully, John Wick: Chapter 2 managed to be the former, borrowing just enough from the first installment, while still providing us with a fresh, new adventure for our titular assassin.
2. A deep dive into the larger universe
In the first John Wick film, we got a tragically brief glimpse into a complex assassin shadow society, replete with its own special rules, hotels, mechanics, doctors, and gold coin-based currency. For the most part, it was used as a side note to serve the larger revenge narrative, showing us the tip of what promised to be a massive iceberg. John Wick: Chapter 2 gives us a far more in-depth look, and it’s part of what helps us understand why a sequel was necessary in the first place.
The core story is rooted deeply in this shadow society, and an arcane law that requires Wick to once again return from retirement. We won’t spoil it any further than that, but suffice it to say, it’s exciting to get a better understanding for how the shady world of assassins is governed.
3. More imaginative action sequences
Walking the line between highly stylized fight scenes and visceral, realistic violence is tough. Most films choose to err on either side, rarely balancing the two. It’s not hard to understand why that is either, given the difficulty of infusing a movie with both. In the case of John Wick: Chapter 2, we have a film that somehow manages to stylize its violence, while still keeping it grounded in reality. Sometimes, a chase and shoot sequence will utilize vivid, electric colors and a maze of mirrors. For others, the killing ground will simply be a dimly lit cave. The result is a beautifully balanced and imaginative visual aesthetic that faithfully builds on the considerable work of the first film in the saga.
4. Playing to Keanu Reeves’ strengths
Keanu Reeves isn’t going to win an Oscars for Best Actor. That being said, his true strength lies in his sheer physicality, and John Wick: Chapter 2 plays to that perfectly. Reeves’ training regimen for the film was nothing short of insane, with Complex breaking down the way he was required to learn “Japanese jiu jitsu, Brazilian jiu jitsu, tactical 3-gun, and standing judo” in order to embody the character.
Reeves also underwent rigorous firearm training, mastering “speed draws, transitions, and fast trigger pulls,” as well as “train(ing) three or four times a week and fir(ing) 1,000–1,500 rounds per session.” Save for a stunt driver who helped pull off some of the trickier maneuvers behind the wheel of Wick’s Mustang Cobra, Reeves performed a large majority of his own stunts, making each fight sequence feel that much more real in the process (and saving the film from rapidly cutting around a stunt double).
5. Slowing down the cuts and speeding up the action
Modern action movies are lousy with quick-cuts during fight sequences. Commonly, the rapid cutting and shaky-cam is used to mask the fact that real punches aren’t being thrown, while trying to hide the fact that a stunt double has been subbed in. John Wick: Chapter 2 doesn’t require that approach for one simple reason: stunt doubles are largely left on the sidelines. Even Wick newcomers Ruby Rose and Common opted to perform most of their own stunts alongside Reeves, leaving director Chad Stahelski with the freedom to reduce a fight that would typically feature 10 to 15 cuts inside of a few seconds down to two to three.
The end result is a visual language that makes it so viewers always have a sense for where every actor is within their given space. A shaky-cam and quick-cut approach embraces a sort of chaos that makes it impossible to get a sense of anyone’s surroundings. Sometimes that works, but more often than not it keeps you from enjoying the actual action.
6. Growing the legend of John Wick
Much of what makes John Wick such a compelling character is the myth surrounding his career as a feared assassin. As the villain from the first film put it, he’s not just the boogeyman, “He’s the one you send to kill the f*cking boogey-man.” His legend only continues to grow in John Wick: Chapter 2, fighting off wave after wave of attackers, all while firing head shots with pinpoint precision at virtually every range. Even after being stabbed, shot, punched, and generally brutalized, Wick is a nigh unstoppable force of nature, and a blast to watch work.
7. Fixing the ‘Superman problem’
Superman may be DC’s most powerful hero, but more often than not that’s worked against him. How do you throw obstacles in the way of an indestructible superhero who’s faster and stronger than any adversary? DC fixed that problem with Kryptonite. John Wick: Chapter 2 fixed it in an entirely different way.
The problem: John Wick is the greatest assassin in the world, making it hard to build any sense of tension or suspense when his success is a virtual guarantee. That’s remedied simply by pitting every other assassin in the world against him, putting him at a severe disadvantage in terms of sheer numbers. Not everyone he goes up against is your run-of-the-mill redshirt either, with Common and Ruby Rose both proving to be a handful in their respective roles as combatants.
8. A long-awaited reunion
While ultimately not a reason to see John Wick: Chapter 2 by itself, seeing Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne reunited on-screen together for the first time since the Matrix trilogy is still exciting. Fishburne’s role is small yet significant, acting as New York’s de facto buyer and seller of information. It’s hard not to cheer for that long-awaited reunion between Neo and Morpheus, albeit in a decidedly different kind of action movie.
9. The biggest flaw: A 122 minute runtime
Any time you’re pushing two hours in an action movie, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that the pace is dragging. That’s why the first John Wick worked so well on its own, checking in at a tidy 96 minutes. And while the sequel was thrilling, imaginative, and worthy of its predecessor, a hefty 122 minute runtime still worked against it. We don’t quite get a singular climax, with Wick’s revenge-quest alternating between loud, rigorous action sequences, and quiet, dragging interludes. That’s not to say it ruined the whole movie; far from it actually. More than anything, it wasn’t hard to picture John Wick: Chapter 2 working better with about 30 minutes shaved off.
10. Yes, you absolutely should see this movie
If you’re worried about the sequel not measuring up to the original, don’t. John Wick: Chapter 2 checks off all the requisite boxes for a follow-up effort, building on the first film, while still borrowing just enough to pay tribute to its roots. It’s certainly not thoughtful Oscar-bait, and in the end, that’s exactly what makes it so damn interesting.
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