"Bursting with a stoic charm and deadpan style that perfectly fits the actor, this easily remains Keanu's greatest character in years, maybe even decades"
When it opened in 2014, the film John Wick proved to achieve a status almost as mythical as the titular assassin. A comparatively small film by today's blockbuster standards, it lurked mostly in the shadows, with most people not even knowing it was coming until it was looming over you. And then exploded into the light, garnering rave reviews, beating all financial projections, and immediately capturing the kind of cult following many films can only dream of.
Fast forward three years, and John Wick is back in the suitably terse sequel, John Wick: Chapter 2. Nobody, it would seem, is more surprised about this than Keanu Reeves himself. And nobody, judging by early figures that show Chapter 2 is topping the original on all fronts, is as happy about it as cinema-goers.
Picking up only a short while after the events of John Wick, Chapter 2 finds John (Keanu Reeves) dragged even deeper back into a world he thought he had escaped when an old associate returns to collect on an old promise.
As was the case in the first outing, the premise is simple. Though it lacks the emotional impact that provokes John Wick's previous rampage of vengeance, it remains no less compelling. Whilst the secret underworld of assassins and criminals was only touched upon before, it takes centre stage this time around, revealing a system of honour and law that serves to be both cause and exacerbate John Wick's woes. Familiar locations and characters are revisited, then subsequently expanded upon as John goes about his mission. All to great effect.
Whereas the first film took some traditional time to lay groundwork regarding the character and the world he inhabits, such is not the case with Chapter 2, that literally hits the ground running, expertly blending a recap with a stunning collection of set-pieces.
And the action in John Wick: Chapter 2 is stunning. Though the ship is only steered with one hand this time, Chad Stahelski's grip on the franchise remains firm, blending the hyper-realistic nature of actions with a renewed sense of reality. It's a weird thing to say about a film with an unstoppable legendary assassin at the centre, but little touches like his need to pause mid-fights to reload, or collect the guns of his fallen adversaries, only serves to ground and elevate the film and keep audiences immersed.
So simple is the story, that it could almost border on paper thin, but everything moves at such a frenetic pace and in such a stylish fashion that you'll hardly notice. It also helps that returning writer, Derek Kolstad, has penned a script as hilarious as it is action-packed. One of the biggest positives of the first instalment was the knowing touches of humour. And it is just another thing that that is expanded upon in Chapter 2. Most notably in a wonderful train station sequence, a brilliant play on a traditional bar scene, and Keanu Reeves's delightful, crowd-pleasing reunion with Laurence Fishbourne.
Characters both new and returning are peppered throughout the film, offering able support, but it's only Ian McShane as Continental Hotel Manager - Winston, Lance Reddick as The Concierge, Ruby Rose as a deaf rival assassin, and Common, as a vengeful bodyguard that truly make an impression, in terms of plot and enjoyment. Common, especially, proving to be a compelling addition to the world, offering an almost-equally sympathetic character to root for, creating some nice touches of complexity to proceedings.
But this is very much Keanu Reeves's movie.... and he owns it. Bursting with a stoic charm and deadpan style that perfectly fits the actor, this easily remains Keanu's greatest character in years, maybe even decades. Even before you take into account that he is performing ninety-five percent of his own action scenes and stunts. A feat that is even more impressive given Keanu, at age 52, could easily be placed into the emerging category of 'Geriaction Star'.
Unlike Liam Neeson and the Taken films, however, you'll find no rapid fire cuts, no fancy camera or CGI tricks. This is all Keanu Reeves proving himself to everybody as immortal as John Wick himself occasionally seems, guided by stellar writing and a director/ stunt coordinator at the top of his game.
All in all, John Wick: Chapter 2 was a rapid-fire, often hilarious piece of entertainment that not only matched but, dare I say, surpassed the original.