It’s a lot to ask lightning to strike in the same bottle twice…
“John Wick: Chapter 2” is the sequel to the 2014 surprise-hit-turned-cult-classic “John Wick” and features Keanu Reeves returning to the titular role of a hitman who just can’t seem to stay retired. Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo and Ian McShane all co-star as Chad Stahelski returns to direct.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first “John Wick,” so much in fact that it found itself on my Top 10 films of that year. It was a film that was well-framed and brilliantly-choreographed, and even if Keanu Reeves isn’t the best actor in the world he gave a performance that worked for the role. This sequel has glimpses of what made the first film so much fun, but falls victim to what plagues many follow-ups and that is a mixture of too much sameness and trying to one-up the original.
For a film where its rules have already been written and world already established, this takes a while to get moving. The first time around it was fascinating seeing how the underworld of assassins operated, with their own currency and guidelines for where and when they can “conduct business.” Here the first act is a lot of talking about debts and obligations, and if you haven’t seen the first film you will probably be lost about a lot of what’s being discussed. Last time things were simple: people stole John Wick’s car and killed his dog so he goes out for revenge; here, the motivation is less intriguing. In fact just one gun is fired in the first 45 minutes of the film, which is a problem when the selling point of your movie is “come watch Keanu Reeves shoot people with a gun.”
Once the action does get going it’s fun for a while, and I felt a big smile spread across my face at Reeves getting headshot after headshot in the catacombs of Rome. However after about five minutes it becomes a bit mundane, much like putting a video game on the easiest mode. When Reeves continuously gets headshots and seems to kill 30 men without breaking much of a sweat, there’s no real risk involved and that in turn makes it hard for the audience to feel nervous for our protagonist. Reeves also faces swarms of endless enemies, much like levels of a video game, so many in fact that it begins to jump the shark (it’s unclear whether this was the filmmakers’ satirical intentions or not, but either way it’s a sin).
Director Chad Stahelski, a career stuntman, does stage his hand-to-hand fights in wide shots, allowing the actors to breathe, and for that he is to be commended. He does not implement the close-up, shaky cam punches with quick edits that nauseate so many modern filmgoers and as with the first film, Reeves and the stuntmen have choreographed action sequences that look and feel real.
The film sets itself up for a third go-around and despite being disappointed by this I will still be eager to have Reeves return to this world. Maybe if they can find a story that works and a narrative that flows easier then we can return to what made the first film so much fun but as it stands now, “John Wick: Chapter 2” marks the first cinematic disappointment of 2017.
Critics Rating: 5/10