John Wick: Chapter 2
Keanu Reeves returns for a sequel that delivers in spades on the action front
Swapping the sleek simplicity and peculiar adorability of the original for a more chaotic and convoluted second crack, John Wick: Chapter 2 reunites director Chad Stahelski with star reborn Keanu Reeves, once again occupying the title role. Part rehash of the first film, part expansion of its bizarro universe, it treats its plot like a trifle, serving little more than to thread together some indecently entertaining action.
An exciting prologue introduces us to Peter Stormare's amusingly hammy Abram, brother of the previous instalment's Viggo (him of the wonderful 'Oh shit' facial expressions). Yet the real 'big bad' here is swarthy Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) who covets the seat at the villains' 'high table' currently occupied by his sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini). In order to reclaim his liberty, retired assassin John must dispatch said sibling; to do so he travels to Rome where he tangles with Gianna's loyal protector Cassian (Common) and Santino's right-hand gal Ares (Ruby Rose).
The original was lean and focused, whereas this stretches past the two-hour mark and has to do some less-than-smooth manoeuvring to eke things out. And if one of the pleasures of its predecessor was the dry delivery of a classy cast then, with notable exceptions (returnees Ian McShane and Lance Reddick, the great Franco Nero), those assembled this time round fail to bring the same gravitas and tonal consistency to their performances.
In place of understatement, Chapter 2 takes the fantasy up a notch, crafting a world where beggars, buskers and passersby are at best in on a conspiracy, at worst potential foes. There are neat touches like a glimpse into the HR department that keeps the cogs turning and kills coming for this global assassins' network, but some of these elements feel over-egged (Peter Serafinowicz's arms-dealing sommelier; Keanu's on-the-nose reunion with a Matrix co-star).
However, Stahelski delivers where it matters with beautifully choreographed set-pieces that may even surpass the original in the elegance of their execution, being both uber-stylish and properly punchy; the grace with which Reeves moves is once again effectively offset by the bone-shattering impact of his actions. John remains ludicrously invulnerable but the old-school fisticuffs and gun battles feel miles away from the preposterous overexertions of the Fast & Furious franchise, or the trend for bloodless violence. Whether he's bringing a pump-action shotgun to a rapid fire-fight or wielding a pencil, when John Wick smacks down his adversaries it most definitely smarts.
A third film is in development, yet the character tired of this way of life prior to part one, and his potential is beginning to feel exhausted too. Watching this reluctant ass-kicker do his thing sure is fun, but it might be time to give the guy a break.
General release from Fri 17 Feb.