Kevin: This weekend saw the release of the heavily anticipated follow-up to a film that both shocked us and gave us multiple orgasms with its hot hardcore action. No not “50 Shades Darker,” I’m referring to “John Wick: Chapter 2” of course. The cult of “John Wick” has obviously grown since the original blew us away in 2014, with the newest adventure of everyone’s favorite dog-avenging hitman more than doubling the opening weekend gross of the original. But box office aside, does the sequel live up to the high bar set by the first one? For the most part, yes.
If you are just coming for the action then you won’t be disappointed, as “Chapter 2” throws both more and longer action sequences at you than the original. In fact, while the first one had the balls to open with 20 minutes of Keanu Reeves grieving his wife and then dog before giving Wick his first kill, the sequel starts off with probably its best action set piece as Wick seeks to retrieve his stolen car. The other standout would obviously be the shootout inside an ancient Roman coliseum (although some of it is too underlit for my tastes), with this pre-production training video giving a taste of what’s to come:
And while most of the kills are the usual “Wick grapples with someone before shooting them in the head” variety, we do get a nicely gruesome demonstration of his much-discussed skill with pencil. So yes the action is as awesome as you would expect, but that may be the biggest strike against the sequel: while part of what was so great about the first was that we didn’t know what to expect, this one offers no real surprises apart from some fun additions to its world-building (I will say that in two movies, “John Wick” has done a better job of establishing it’s fictional universe than all 134 “X-Men” movies combined).
The movie also doesn’t have the same emotional hook as the original (killing an adorable puppy may be manipulative, but damn if it doesn’t ignite the bloodlust), while the villains are not nearly as memorable either. I will say that at least Common acquits himself well both in his acting (which he thankfully is not required to do much of) and the fight scenes. Side question: why do action or martial arts movies like this frequently cast Common and the RZA despite the fact that they suck? And is Common still considered a rapper? Does anyone remember the last time they saw him rap?
If I sound like I’m being nit-picky, well I am. Those issues aside, this is still a really entertaining continuation of a series that has thankfully reminded filmmakers that it’s a lot more fun to be able to clearly see the well-choreographed fight sequences on screen than having them obscured through shaky camera movements and rapid-fire edits (see the most recent egregious example of this in our “Jason Bourne” discussion). If the success of the “John Wick” films encourages a wave of action-packed copycats then that would only be a good thing, and as long as Keanu continues to remain spry at the age of 52(!), I will be there opening weekend for the “Chapter 3” that is set up at the end of this newest sequel.
CJ: I was very pleased with the sequel. My main takeaway was that it didn’t try to get cute, and rather just focused on what people liked the first time. A lesson “Taken 2” (and 3) clearly chose to ignore.
Overall, the movie doesn’t waste your time trying to force silly B-storyline nonsense that drags everything down. It’s about John Wick and whatever he needs to accomplish. I also appreciated that the story didn’t take a lame “now he needs more revenge” kick; in fact, it forced him to become the horrible killer he once was. This presents an interesting dilemma, whereby you have to wonder for a moment why you cheer for John Wick. Outside of his dog being murdered in the first movie, he’s actually a horrible human being who we should feel nothing for.
I also applaud screenwriter Derek Kolstad for not taking the easy way out. Without giving away too much, in “Chapter 2” Wick is presented with a mission that most movies would have allowed him to get out of without any moral culpability. What I appreciated is how this movie keeps him in his lane. He was part of a group that has established rules, and he follows them, no question.
This leads me to the world-building, which as Kevin implied is much better than your average franchise with 40 years of comic-book mythology to draw upon. I’d take it further; I think this is some of the most interesting and well done world-building since that concept began in earnest with “Iron Man.” Well obviously “Transformers” is better, but it’s better at almost everything. What also sets the universe of “John Wick” apart is that they don’t have to stop a scene cold in order to explain every little detail to you. Instead we get little details parceled out and we are presumed to be smart enough to fill in the rest. I’d like to think that while writing these moments, Derek Kolstad would flip off a picture of Joss Whedon. Then again, if Joss reads this he’ll probably quit blogs altogether.
Common really did bother me in this movie though. Mostly because his inability or unwillingness to “go for it” resulted in his fight scenes having to be edited more, thus making them less interesting and fun. While Ruby Rose and her stunt double seemed game for whatever the action called for, I guess Common didn’t want to risk getting hurt? Pussy.
I’ll end on how much I enjoyed the opening sequence. It involves Peter Stormare delivering an awesome “Do you know how badass he is? THIS IS HOW BADASS HE IS!” Col. Trautman-type speech as we switch to shots of John Wick being just as badass as advertised. It also includes my favorite line: Stormare yelling, “He once killed three guys with a pencil … A FUCKING PENCIL!” Those opening 5 minutes were a great nod to the 80’s movies we at TGD clearly love and appreciate.
All in all, great to see a sequel that actually delivers on what was promised, met my expectations, and had me leaving the theater with a smile on my face. “Chapter 3”? You bet I’m in.
Kevin: Yeah I’m not sure what Common was supposed to bring to the table. It’s not like his role required someone who can act (which Common can’t do anyway). It’s just the same basic head-of-security for the bad guy role that Daniel Bernhardt played in the first one, except Bernhardt is a legit martial artist. I assume Ruby Rose is an even shittier actor than Common, since they make her a deaf mute with no spoken lines. At least her fight with Wick is somewhat believable by having her mainly fight with a blade; they don’t do the common movie trope that because she’s a lesbian she’s somehow way stronger than the average tiny woman. Either way, when they start casting “Chapter 3,” instead of getting Ben Foster and sending him to martial arts academy for six weeks, just hire people who can actually fight like Michael Jai White.
I’ll end by reassuring any dog lovers out there that Wick’s newest pooch does not bite the dust in this one. And as long as we’re on the topic of dogs, I’ll substitute the usual star rating system for my own beloved canine companion, and award “John Wick: Chapter 2” three out of four Gracie’s.