Photo: Courtesy of Tribune News Service

'John Wick: Chapter 2' sets standard yet again

Movie: "John Wick: Chapter 2"

Director: Chad Stahelski

Run time: 2 hours 2 minutes

Release Date: Feb. 10

Rating: A+

“John Wick: Chapter 2” takes no time for introductions. The beginning of the movie picks up right after the events of the first one, where John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is tracking down the car that was stolen from him in the first film. For newcomers to the series, this is a great introduction to John Wick’s character. His reputation precedes him, and his actions reinforce his description of "the one you sent to kill the boogeyman."

After an action packed opening sequence, the movie takes some time to set the scene for this sequel. In a nutshell, John Wick is indebted to Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) in the form of a ‘marker,' or a sort of blood pact. This blood pact was made before the events of the first movie, and D’Antonio asks for Wick to pay his debts through way of an assassination. Begrudgingly, John Wick is pulled out of retirement once again.

What keeps the film so engaging is of course its well composed action scenes, but even more so is its world-building. The first movie gave viewers a taste of the underground crime world John Wick is a part of. "John Wick: Chapter 2" gives an even larger insight into this world by revealing many more layers. It answers questions posed by the first one, but still keeps some elements in the dark. This is one of few franchises in recent memory that boasts players characterized as well as the world they inhabit.

Every character breathes life into this world. Keanu Reeves is fantastic as the titular character who shoots first and asks questions later. Ian McShane reprises his role as Winston, the manager of the Continental, a hotel that is a safe zone for the likes of John Wick wherein no “business” can be conducted. "John Wick 2" also introduces Ares and Cassian, two characters who are a match for John Wick. Cassian, played by rapper Common, is just as precise and ruthless as Wick himself. Ares, played by Ruby Rose, is D’Antonio’s mute bodyguard. Both characters create an interesting dynamic with Wick when they are all on screen.

On the topic of world-building, Laurence Fishburne plays the head of an underground network of hitman hobos. As I type that out it makes zero sense, but in the movie it makes perfect sense — almost too much sense. This is an example of the quality world-building director Chad Stahelski has done. Every part of the movie provides more and more pieces of an incomplete puzzle started by the first film. This is done through tactfully crafted scenes giving the audience greater sight into the John Wick’s world bit by bit.

However, focusing on world-building did not distract Stahelski from making a slick and brutally violent action movie. This movie took all the elements that made the first film a cult classic and took it to the next level. From long tracking shots, to more weapons, to more faceless henchman for Wick to ruthlessly cut down, "John Wick: Chapter 2" raises its own bar for stylized action sequences. The movie really outdoes itself in its size and scale. There is no “shaky cam” and there are no unnecessary cuts to create the illusion of action. There simply is no need for those gimmicks because of the movie's skillful choreography and direction.

Director Chad Stahelski doubled for Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix." Stahelski used to be a stuntman in front of the camera. After "John Wick Chapter 2," Stahelski found a newer role behind the camera. He and writer Derek Kolstad have a long-term vision for this world. Until that vision is complete, "John Wick: Chapter 2" is more than enough to tide both "John Wick" and action fans over until then.



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