John Wick: Chapter 2 features a prologue that shows what the easiest version of a John Wick sequel would have looked like. During its 10 or so minutes, Keanu Reeves’ impeccably dressed one-man-army tears through a chop shop owned by the brother of the first movie’s villain. (And if you’re looking to cast Michael Nyqvist’s even sleazier brother, of course you cast Peter Stormare. Of course you do.) The chop shop houses Wick’s gorgeous Mustang, never recovered during the first film, and Wick creates total fucking mayhem just to get it back. It’s a blisteringly chaotic prologue — fun and funny — and full of everything we loved about the original film.
And then it ends, the title card is displayed, and the real John Wick: Chapter 2 begins in earnest. Not content with merely rehashing the first movie for a full two hours, Reeves, director Chad Stahelski and screenwriter Derek Kolstad decide to do a deeper dive into the Wick-verse, creating a sequel that’s bigger in every way without losing the things that worked so well the first time around.
Remember all the clever little world building that peppered the edges of the original film? The hotel. The coins. The community of assassins that adhere to a code of honor and play by a strict set of rules. That stuff is brought to the forefront in John Wick: Chapter 2, as Wick is fully reinserted into a society he wanted to leave behind. The movie opens with a slick European named Santino (Riccardo Scamarcio) showing up at John’s house to claim a blood debt. Santino is owed a favor for helping Wick retire, and he intends to collect, seeing as Wick’s actions in the first film have the hitmen of the world thinking he’s now very much un-retired. Wick needs to be coerced (don’t worry — no dogs are killed during this movie), but he eventually finds himself in Rome, where he must finish one last job to close out all accounts.
I won’t spoil any more of the plot past that. Just know that Wick 2 tells a more complex tale than Wick 1. That’s not to say it’s full of from-left-field surprises or plot twists; it’s still very much a straight-forwardly-told action film. But motivations are a little more complicated this time around, which makes Wick 2 a morally darker, more textured movie than the first. John does things he’s not exactly thrilled about, murdering not out of simple vengeance or revenge, but out of past obligations he hoped would never come due.
After teaming up with his stuntman partner-in-crime David Leitch to direct Wick 1, Stahelski goes this one alone (with Leitch still on board as a producer), although nothing seems to be forfeited by that change in responsibilities. The action sequences remain a marvel, each one meticulously choreographed and performed. There are vehicle chases, epic shootouts and hand-to-hand throwdowns — all set against interesting backdrops, be it the catacombs of Rome or a modern-art exhibition filled with mirror-covered revolving walls. Stahelski also ups this violence this go-round. Wick 2 is far more brutal than its predecessor. It’s not overly gory, but I promise you you’ll wince hard at least twice during some of the more uncomfortably intense moments.
At the center is Reeves, now wearing what will be known as his defining role like a perfectly tailored suit. It feels like Keanu has maybe 10 lines of dialogue in the whole movie, but his physicality is present in nearly every frame. He makes it seem possible that Wick could take on 50 men and be the one still breathing at the end. And, at the same time, he brings just enough depth to the part that you yearn for him to break free of this life and find the peace he so desperately wants.
Just like in Wick 1, Keanu’s quiet stoicism is delightfully contrasted by a cadre of colorful supporting characters. Pretty much everyone who survived the first film is back, including Ian McShane (with a bit more to do this time), Lance Reddick and John Leguizamo. We also meet the staff of the Continental hotel in Rome, which includes Franco Nero (the original Django!) and Peter Serafinowicz. A number of new deadly assassins are introduced as well, including two badasses played by Common and Orange is the New Black‘s Ruby Rose. And, oh, yeah, Keanu’s old Matrix buddy Laurence Fishburne shows up too. Suffice to say, Wick has his hands full. But the movie never feels overstuffed, and all the actors get at least one scene to shine.
Wick 2 is 20 minutes longer than Wick 1, but the extra time is demanded by a more epic story. The audience is certainly not going to be bored at any point, and the film builds to an exhilarating finale that makes it clear Stahelski and Leitch don’t view this as another standalone installment but rather the second part of a longer saga. Considering that John Wick: Chapter 2 is the rare sequel that matches everything its predecessor did right while also expanding the universe in exciting new ways, Chapter 3 cannot get here soon enough.
This is the best action franchise going right now, and nothing else really comes close.