The Boogeyman is back in black.
Taking place immediately after the wild events of John Wick dragged Keanu Reeves’ retired assassin out of hiding and back into the weird and wonderful underworld of killers, John Wick Chapter Two sees John dealing with the consequences of his puppy-avenging murder spree in the first film.
An old acquaintance who’s noticed John’s activities calls on him to honour a blood debt, an unbreakable bond between two fellow killers, which John refuses. As events escalate and John’s world continues to spin hopelessly out of control, an entire network of assassins take up the contract to put a bullet in his head. Luckily, John Wick is more equipped than most to deal with an onslaught of contract killers, even in retirement.
A few call backs to the first film aside – including an early reference to the almost mythical event in which John killed a room full of men with just “a fucking pencil” – John Wick Chapter Two stands on its own two feet without having to use the first one as a crutch. The criminal underworld, at its centre the Continental Hotel run by Winston (Ian McShane), is once again fascinating to behold. The rules of the hotel and the code by which John and his adversaries abide – no blood spilt in the hotel – lead to darkly comical moments such as John and Cassian (Common) enjoying a drink together on neutral ground, mere moments after they were engaged in a brutal battle to the death.
Lay off the dog this time.
The action and choreography is tightly shot and delivered with surgical precision. Away from the claustrophobic close-ups of the Taken sequels which masked Liam Neeson’s lack of fighting expertise, directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch draw the camera all the way back and leave it running, allowing us to fully immerse ourselves in Keanu Reeves’ mastery over guns, knives, and martial arts. When characters speak of his exploits, his legendary status among honourable career criminals, his actions speak for themselves. He is the Boogeyman, preying on the dreams and life force of fellow assassins.
‘Death’s very emissary’, a fallen foe whispers, and you’ll believe it as John Wick tears through wave upon wave of soon-to-be-corpses to enact his own dreaded brand of visceral vengeance. A prolonged battle against never-ending waves of mercenaries in the neon-drenched catacombs of Rome is unequivocally electrifying.
Common’s Cassian is a worthy rival to John, presenting a genuine physical threat. From a hilarious sequence in which the two casually squeeze out rounds from silenced pistols over the heads of oblivious subway commuters, to a grittier close-combat knife fight, the bar has been raised since John’s fights against Alfie Allen and Michael Nyqvist in the first film.
Ruby Rose is effortlessly cool as Ares, a thorn in John’s side who issues one-liners and threats in sign language.
Ruby Rose is wonderful as the mute femme fatale Ares, who engages John in the mind-bending climax in a hall of mirrors, while Peter Serafinowicz has a brilliant cameo as a Q-like sommelier who commends heavy artillery like fine wines. Reeves’ fellow Matrix alumnus Laurence Fishburne also makes an appearance as the Bowery King, a pigeon-loving crime lord who comes to John’s aid before the grand finale.
By the end of the film, there’s an indication that the majority of New York City’s population, if not the rest of the world, is populated by highly proficient, extremely dangerous assassins. In any other franchise, this might seem ridiculous. It may sound ridiculous – but it works. The world of John Wick is always insanely exciting and keeps on moving like a shark, never burdening its pace with the troubles of ordinary citizens in need of saving or interference and hindrance from law enforcement agencies, and the story is all the better for it.
If the first film captured lightning in a bottle, John Wick Chapter Two shakes up and uncorks said bottle, letting rip with a vibrant and violent masterpiece in action cinema.