"John Wick: Chapter 2." Niko Tavernise/Lionsgate
Keanu Reeves has always had a love of action movies, but since “The Matrix” franchise, he's found himself in a lot of mediocre actioners that didn’t grab his fan base like the Neo character did.
(The one exception, though it wasn't widely seen enough, is “Man of Tai Chi,” which is also Reeves' only directing credit. Seek it out.)
Then in 2014 we got “John Wick,” in which Reeves plays an ex-hitman who comes out of retirement to settle a score. On paper, it sounded as mediocre as the rest. But Reeves teamed with stuntmen-turned-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch to deliver a movie that showed Reeves is still an action star.
With a mix of comedic situations and eye-popping martial arts and gunplay known as gun fu, “John Wick” became a genre hit for Lionsgate, raking in over $86 million worldwide on a $20 million budget.
The inevitable sequel is now upon us. “John Wick: Chapter 2” (out in theaters on Friday) is a clever extension into the world we were teased with in the first — filled with gold bullions, luxury hotels for assassins, and lots of insane fighting.
This time around, it’s not John Wick’s dog that motivates him to become a killing machine, but his whole house getting blown up.
Tying up some loose ends from the first movie (the sequel opens with him finally getting his Mustang back), Wick is met by the man who got him out of the gangster game to begin with, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio). But D'Antonio has come asking Wick to pay his debt by doing one more job.
Wick declines, which leads to D'Antonio blowing up his house. A persuasive tactic, as Wick comes around and agrees to doing the hit, which is on D'Antonio's sister.
This then leads to Wick traveling to Rome (when you make a hit movie, the sequel gets a budget for luxurious locations) to do the hit. Which has a few complications and a double cross. This leads to Wick going back into revenge mode, and he won’t stop until he has taken out D'Antonio.
But enough of the plot. What we learned from the first “John Wick” movie is that the action is 10 times more important.
Along with the sequel giving us a deeper glimpse inside the prep John Wick goes through to be a top-notch killer — only the best in weapons and bulletproof custom suits — Stahelski (Leitch was making another movie at the time the sequel was being filmed) delivers incredible action sequences that accomplish the unthinkable task of besting the original.
From a car chase that turns into a demolition derby and countless head shots during the gun fu battles to a really creative use of a pencil and an homage to the mirror scene in the Bruce Lee classic “Enter the Dragon,” “John Wick: Chapter 2” is an orgy of violence that can become mind-numbing at times, but by action-sequel standards it exceeds expectations.
Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, and Lance Reddick are some of the few survivors from the original who return along with newcomers Laurence Fishburne, Ruby Rose as a silent assassin, and Common as a hitman who has a particularly wild fight sequence with Reeves, which ends with them having a drinking together.
Welcome back to the world of “John Wick.