I didn’t love John Wick the way other people did, but I enjoyed it well enough to Netflix the sequel. The verdict?
I liked it. Probably more than the first one, honestly.
Spoilers for the first film and I guess mild spoilers for this one? I mean, I won’t reveal the Big Stuff until the Spoiler Section, but I’m definitely gonna discuss some world-building details. Oh yeah, people. John Wick: Chapter 2 suddenly got world-building details like whoa.
John Wick tries to go back into retirement. It lasts for approximately six seconds before an old promise draws him in for one last job.
1. Should we begin with the inevitable comparison between Chapter One vs. Chapter Two?
There are things I like better about the first movie: enjoyable as this sequel is, for instance, I don’t think there’s anything in it that beats how cool this scene is. But there are things I like better about the sequel, too: namely, tone. Both movies are largely similar in many respects, but the first film is, for lack of a better word, a bit more serious. Aesthetic and colorful, sure, but serious.
This movie, by contrast, doubles down on its wonderfully silly assassin hotel from the first film and creates an entire criminal underground society that’s as elaborate as it is absurd. Visiting the Continental in Rome wasn’t a particularly large leap, no, but we also drop by honest-to-God criminal cartographers. Like, I gotta be honest: I wasn’t expecting that at all. We also do a quick tasting with the gun sommelier (played to wonderful effect by Peter Serafinowicz), and we introduce the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) and his whole pigeon system and network of informants posing as homeless New Yorkers. And then there are gold coins and assassin markers and an entire council called the High Table that rules this complicated criminal underworld.
John Wick: Chapter Two isn’t exactly campy. Like, there’s no wink wink, nudge nudge here: the actors play everything pretty straight–well, with the exception of Peter Stormare, who I’m fairly certain is biologically incapable of not chewing the scenery at every given opportunity–but the more elaborate this world becomes, the more you can’t help but laugh at its sheer ridiculousness. For others, that might be a detriment. For me, of course, it’s obviously a selling point.
2. Some other reasons I enjoyed Chapter Two a little more than Chapter One:
A. This film doesn’t have some of the plot conveniences that bothered me from the first movie. (Like characters surviving scenes they shouldn’t have walked away from.)
B. The bad guy doesn’t do a heel-face turn from Relatively Reasonable Dude to Total James Bond Villain. (Instead, our villain here is pretty consistently a slimy schmuck the whole way through.)
C. The dog doesn’t die. (Like, I’m just telling you that now. I was actually okay with this in the first movie, despite it being sad, but it would’ve just irritated the shit out of me in the sequel. Like, that shit’s just not necessary.)
3. Keanu Reeves is roughly the same here as he was in the first film. Mostly, I enjoy him (and it’s cool he does most of his own stunts), although there is one scene where John Wick’s screaming out his frustration, or whatever, and I couldn’t take it seriously at all, like, I definitely laughed out loud. Other welcome returns include Ian McShane, who is fabulous, of course, and Lance Reddick, who I just adore in these movies for reasons I cannot hope to properly articulate. Sadly, John Leguizamo has even less screen time than he did last go around, and, oh yes, I see Bridget Moynahan has come back for another six seconds of Dead Wife Nostalgia. Yay. Feel that female representation, folks.
We also have some newcomers. Bad Guy Santino (Riccardo Scamarcio) is kind of obnoxious, but serves his purpose well enough. Surprisingly, I’m not wild about Laurence Fishburne, despite enjoying the whole Matrix reunion–maybe because his performance actually does feel a bit wink wink, nudge nudge to me? I mean, it’s not terrible; it’s just that the lines seem to be one “motherfucker” short of being written solely for Samuel L. Jackson. Something feels slightly off. And I’ll admit, I don’t love Gianna D’Antonio (Claudia Gerini), either, for reasons I’ll attempt to work out in the Spoiler Section.
On the other hand, we do have some very fun newcomers, namely Ares (Ruby Rose) and Cassian (Common).
I basically love Ares, like, an assassin and loyal right hand woman with a whole androgynous vibe? I mean, YES. I don’t think she’s supposed to be deaf, unless the director is wildly overestimating how far two people can be apart in a dimly lit tunnel and still read each other’s lips, but she does use ASL to speak, which is pretty cool to see. Once again, John Wick is going for the flashy, colorful subtitles, but they don’t bother me this time around, perhaps because I was expecting them.
Anyway, Ares is pretty badass, which means John Wick: Chapter 2 has the exact same problem that the first movie had: I’m voting for the awesome lady who’s trying to kill our hero. I mean, it’s not a real problem, I know. I’m just saying that whenever John Wick and Ares square off, I’m absolutely rooting for the latter, just like I was rooting for Ms. Perkins the first time around. Basically, I’m just waiting for the spin-off with a female lead. Hm. Who would I want to be that lead, I wonder? Is Sarah Shahi too obvious? Ooh, how about Ellen Wong?
Meanwhile, I like Cassian as well, although admittedly not quite as much as Ares. Mostly, I like his motivations. I like when characters you enjoy are at cross-purposes for reasons that a) you can actually buy (and not cheap BS drama), and b) don’t boil down to just one person is Good and one person is Evil.
4. As far as the fight scenes go, overall, I like them. Actually, a couple are pretty fantastic: the whole scene at the club, for instance (I’m all about that club music), and also the mirror maze, cause, like, everyone loves a Mirror Maze Battle. There’s also a fight sequence on a staircase that I quite liked.
However, I did feel like the fight scenes occasionally ran a little longer than they needed to. It wasn’t a huge problem. I still enjoyed them well enough (they certainly had several “Jesus Christ, OW” moments, like, you could just see the fight choreographers dreaming up the best ways to make the audience cringe), but I did think they could be trimmed up a touch here or there.
5. Finally, before Spoilers, I just thought I’d mention that this movie basically begins with a ten-minute monologue on how ridiculously awesome John Wick is.
I mean, okay, it’s not actually a ten-minute monologue, but that’s kinda how it feels. Did you watch Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation? Do you remember Alec Baldwin’s line about how Ethan Hunt is the “living manifestation of destiny?” Yeah, this scene’s kind of like that, except there are, like, 25 additional lines on why you should be afraid that Baba Yaga John Wick is coming for your ass.
You know what I’d like to see? John Wick: Chapter Three partnering up with Dos Equis and working together on a marketing campaign that makes John Wick the new Most Interesting Man in the World, at least for a limited time. Cause let’s be real here: nobody actually cares about the current Most Interesting Man in the World, do they? And these could be really fun commercials/promotional tie-ins: like, “he can kill a man with a pistachio, and two at once with a cashew” or “he once stepped into a room and 17 men dropped dead from fear.”
I’m just saying. Think of the gloriously ridiculous possibilities!
So, here are the basics: John Wick retired years ago, right? Well, it turns out that it’s hard for assassins to retire (go figure), and the only reason he managed it at all was because he gave a marker to Primary Villain/Awful Human Being Santino. Markers, it turns out, are basically like One Free Kill coupons for the criminal underworld. Once Santino heard that John Wick started killing people again to avenge his dog, he decided to cash in that marker. You see, Santino wants his sister, Gianna, dead so he can take her spot at the High Table. (It seems generally agreed upon that this would be disastrous, since Santino is such a total tool, although if I’m honest, I’m not entirely convinced that Gianna was such a rose, herself.)
So, Santino comes for a visit. Wick’s all “dude, I’m out” and Santino’s all “no one’s ever REALLY out” and Wick’s all “sorry, but no hard feelings, right” and Santino’s all “yeah, no, it’s cool, I’m just totes gonna blow up your fancy damn house.” Goodbye, House of Far Too Many Windows!
No longer having anywhere to sleep, Wick goes to the Continental for a bed and some free advice from Winston (McShane), who’s basically like “you were an idiot for giving this marker in the first place, but a deal’s a deal, and now you gotta pay up.” (But, you know. More British.) So, Wick leaves his dog with Charon (Reddick), and flies to Rome to get back into the game.
So, Gianna. Let’s talk about her for a bit.
Here’s pretty much what happens: Wick corners Gianna alone. They talk for a while, cause they’re friendly and all. Gianna realizes she’s doomed because John Wick is, you know, Satan Incarnate, the Merchant of Death, all that good jazz, so she decides to meet death on her own terms, i.e., she gets nekkid, jumps in the bath, and slits her wrists. Wick does shoot her in the head (for efficiency’s sake, I suppose), but not until Gianna is either unconscious or dead anyway.
I didn’t love this, while watching, and I spent a while trying to work through why. Here, I think, is the crux of my problem: if you switch roles and pretend Gianna was the client and Santino was the target, the scene wouldn’t play out the same. Maybe Santino would kill himself rather than futilely trying to survive against Dark Lord John Wick, but would he strip down first? Would we actually see his naked stroll to the bath? Would John Wick be so sympathetic he actually held Santino’s hand? Nah. I don’t buy it, not for one second. I think Gianna’s supposed to come across as all strong and tragically badass here, but that’s not how the scene reads to me. Mostly, it comes off as MALE LENS, SO MUCH MALE LENS, particularly since I can’t imagine Hollywood shooting this scene the same way with a dude playing the victim. It doesn’t kill the movie or anything for me, but it does slightly bug.
Anyway, action happens. I don’t have much interest in going over the whole movie, so I’m just going to hit some of the big plot points: Cassian goes after John Wick because he was hired to protect Gianna and isn’t pleased she’s dead. John defeats him, of course, by stabbing him in the chest. As a professional courtesy, however, he doesn’t remove the knife, potentially giving Cassian the chance to make it to a hospital and live. John doesn’t extend the same courtesy for Ares, unfortunately, stabbing her pretty much the exact same way but extracting the knife. I like to believe she made it anyway, though, and damn the physical impossibility of that. Not my Ares! I want you to liiiiiiiiive!
Eventually, super smarmy Santino takes refuge at the Continental. John Wick busts in, and while Winston tries to talk him down, Wick shoots Santino in the head. Mid-sentence actually, cause, you know. John Wick is the boss honeybadger, and he don’t give a fuck. It’s honestly pretty awesome: I just figured we’d end this movie with Wick super temporarily retiring again; instead, we leave on a big ass cliffhanger where John Wick and his dog get an hour head start on pretty much every assassin on the planet hunting them down. It’s kind of the best, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the eventual 3rd movie now.
Only maybe John Wick: Chapter Three can have a super badass assassin lady who lives? (And also isn’t a love interest?) I’m sad that my favorites always die, damn it.
John Wick: “So I guess you have a choice. You want a war? Or do you wanna just give me a gun?”
Bowery King: “Somebody, please, get this man a gun!”
John Wick: “Winston . . . tell them . . . tell them all. Whoever comes, whoever it is . . . I’ll kill them. I’ll kill them all.”
Winston: “Course you will.”
Sommelier: “Good afternoon, Mr. Wick. It’s been a long time.”
John Wick: “I’d like a tasting.”
Sommelier: “I know of your past fondness for the German varietals, but I can wholeheartedly endorse the new breed of Austrians. Glock .34 and .26. Recontoured grips. Flared magwell for easier reloads. And I know you’ll appreciate the custom porting. What’s next?”
John Wick: “I need something robust. Precise.”
Sommelier: “Robust . . . precise . . . AR-15, 11.5-inch. Compensated with an ion-bonded bolt carrier. Trijicon accupoint with 1-6 magnification.”
John Wick: “Could you recommend anything for the end of the night? Something big, bold.”
Sommelier: “May I suggest the Benelli M4? Custom bolt carrier release and charging handle. Textured grips, should your hands get . . . wet. An Italian classic.”
John Wick: “Dessert?”
Sommelier: “Dessert. The finest cutlery. All freshly stoned. Shall I have everything sent to your room?”
John Wick: “Yes. Thank you.”
Sommelier: “Excellent. Mr. Wick? Do enjoy your party.”
I liked it. I’d change some stuff with Gianna and trim the fight scenes a smidge, but it was a fun movie and a solid follow-up to the first film. And since I forgot to mention this before, I totally wanna be one of the old school, heavily tattooed, file clerk/switchboard operator ladies for this criminal underworld. These women showed up for maybe like ten seconds, and I was all, “Okay, one, that’s some badass cosplay that nobody would get, and two, Jesus, can I have a spin-off about these ladies too?”
It’s occurring to me now that my favorite parts about the John Wick franchise have basically nothing to do with John Wick himself.
Don’t fuck with John Wick, Destroyer of Worlds, Bringer of Misery, GOD OF DEATH.