I wasn’t really prepare for how much I enjoyed the original John Wick, which took what could be an absurd premise – a retired hitman who comes back to avenge the death of his dog – and turned it into something wonderfully original and fun, filling its running time with stylistic battles, wonderful character actors, and a rich and interesting world of criminal interactions and societies. (And that doesn’t even factor in my deep love of Ian McShane, whose presence in anything automatically makes it worth watching.) So there was no way I was going to pass up the chance to see more adventures with Keanu Reeves’ killing machine, and the rapturous reviews that John Wick: Chapter 2 was greeted with only made me more excited.
Now, here’s the thing: I really enjoyed John Wick: Chapter 2, which delivers exactly what you would want from a sequel. You get more of Wick’s brutal headshot delivery service, more exploration of this complex, labyrinthine underground economy of coins and markers, more wonderful character actors making an appearance and taking stock characters and investing them with life and personality. (The standout this time, apart from McShane, is Laurence Fishburne, having a blast as the head of a criminal group made up of the homeless.) And, of course, there’s insane, stylish action, with some brutal use of a pencil, a knockout streetfight, an even match for Wick, and a jawdropping finale in a hall of mirrors that’s just a joy to watch unfold.
For all of that, though, John Wick: Chapter 2 doesn’t quite hit the peaks of the original film. That’s not to say that it’s bad, by any means; indeed, at some of those above-mentioned points, it exceeds the original and then some. But it’s a far more uneven film, and it suffers greatly from “middle film” syndrome – because, make no mistake, this feels like a setup for John Wick: Chapter 3 at times, and the lack of a true climax is a bit frustrating. More than that, at times, this feels like a bit of a retread; while it’s still fun to watch Wick lay waste to people, there’s a bit of a feeling of “Okay, sure, but what else do you have?”
Now, there comes a point about halfway through the film when everything changes – when this goes from John Wick being on a mission to being the prey, and it’s at that point that John Wick: Chapter 2 really finds its groove, and becomes a joy to watch. That’s the point where the film separates itself from the original, and becomes something new and exciting, and from that point on, the film is a blast to watch. But that doesn’t really excuse the first half from being…not bad, and certainly not boring, and not even unexciting. But not nearly as engaging as you’d hope.
All of this may sound like I didn’t like it, and I don’t mean that to be the case, because I had a blast with this movie. I could watch Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Lance Reddick, and others just live in their parts for hours; I love the small details of this strange world, and the complicated rules and bureaucracy we keep catching glimpses of. And I love Reeves’ Wick, a lethal man who just wants to be left alone – he makes for a fun reluctant hero, a man caught back in a life he doesn’t want to be in. And, more than anything else, I love the film’s sheer style, and refusal to do anything in half measures – from laser-drenched concerts to shattered mirror halls, from insane car crashes to fist fights in the middle of subways and fountains, the film goes out of its way to make every scene memorable and unique.
Is it the first one? Nah, not quite. But did I have fun? Oh, yes. And will I see the third one? As soon as I possibly can.