“Do you fear damnation, John?”
Returning in a solo effort this time, Chad Stahelski directed the second chapter of the John Wick franchise, after the first instalment was a sleeper hit back in 2014. Keanu Reeves dons the tailored black suit once more, as Chapter Two picks up a mere few hours after we last saw Wick. After eliminating Vigo and Iosef Tarasov in an act of revenge, days after losing his wife and hours after losing his new found “semblance of hope” in an innocent beagle, Wick finds himself unable to truly escape the underworld that fears his name. Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) enlists John to fulfil a request under the blood oath of a Marker, that John originally used to gain aid with his “impossible task”.
The task at hand? Kill Santino’s sister so that her seat within The High Table is relinquished to him.
The opening of Chapter Two exudes an aura of anticipation within the myth that is John Wick’s formidable reputation. So much so, that we spend literally five minutes and thirty six seconds with no coverage of Wick’s face directly in shot. Low angles and brutality from the shadows dominate the atmosphere until franchise newcomer, D.P Dan Laustsen reveals John from the darkness. We’ve come to realise that the legends were true.
Chapter Two wastes no time in opening the world that Wick exists in. A world far removed from that of our own, more attune to the simulated order that The Wachowski sisters established 20 years ago. Cities are oceans of neon ecstasy, occupied by a hierarchy of blood-soaked hands. Flip phones and pagers are the height of communication, receiving commands from operators behind the scenes.
I am fascinated by how Derek Kolstad and Stahelski flesh out this world. The Wick franchise to me seems very much rooted in the “show, don’t tell” approach of world building, without being too on the nose in what exactly is unfolding. This franchise is the ultimate canvas for creativity, in that the crew can bounce ideas no matter how seemingly ridiculous and yet pull them off with so much ease that you don’t even question their choices. An underground network of homeless hitmen, ruled by none other than Laurence Fishburne? Sure why not.
Vendors of fine tactical suits, Italian western legend Franco Nero as a hotel manager and a sommelier with an inclination for weaponry brush the surface of what Stahelski and co. expand upon this time around.
For some, the second half of Chapter Two might be too over the top in just how much it commits to the removed nature of this world. The Wick movies have been aware just how insane their premises are ever since Iosef Tarasov exclaimed “It was just a f****** dog” before meeting his end. It wasn’t just a dog though. It was John Wick’s dog.
The name “John Wick” is a statement in itself. It’s engraved in the mind of everyone exchanging the mysterious gold currency. More importantly, the trio of Stahelski, Reeves and Kolstad make you care about John. Never is this man enjoying the onslaught he carries out.
With the franchise events unfolding in a real-time of sorts, we are seeing a man become further unhinged following the passing of his wife. John is still grieving and attempting to heal. He has only ever dealt loss to others. The experience of dealing with his own is crushing him inside.
We fear him as an opponent, but John still literally begs for Santino to be merciful upon his request to fulfil the Marker. He screams in anger once he’s collected his backup stash of supplies. Peace is all he yearns for. Santino thinks otherwise.
“I’m not that guy anymore.”
“You are always that guy, John.”
John’s growing pain makes the finale of Chapter Two hit with even more menace as Tyler Bate’s chill-inducing score looms. He might be the greatest assassin of this underworld, but Stahelski leaves you feeling that Wick is genuinely about to face a threat he can’t deal with. This is Wick’s final hour. Excommunicado.
Before we even reach that conclusion, Chapter Two boasts captivating action filmmaking that brings out the best of the heroic bloodshed genre. The first act is a steady paced fuse of deep diving into John’s actions and the world. Once that fuse runs out in Rome, the sheer magnificence and talent of this crew are unleashed no holds barred. The concert/catacombs sequence is blisteringly visceral and satisfying.
Each shot carries with it an echo that your eardrums can’t help but surrender to. Every hit is an unrelenting force of pulp thrills that pulls the air from your lungs and shoves back it in. It’s all framed and edited with intoxicating bliss. That’s only the first taste of Chapter Two’s action feats.
A supremely hard-boiled genre inspired duel between Wick and professional acquaintance Cassian (Common) inspires both well-placed humour and tension among the crowded subway station it takes place in. Pop shots back and forth between levels further enhance the reality of this world, as civilians go about their evening. It’s a professional courtesy, at the very least.
The climatic museum/art gallery battle is honestly, in my opinion, an all-timer sequence for the action genre. Synced up to a reinterpreted version of Vivaldi’s “Summer” by composers Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard, Wick carefully dispatches the seven rounds of ammunition equivalent to his bounty set by Santino in the second half. With the film fittingly opening with a projection of Buster Keaton’s daredevil antics, this sequence fully embraces the balletic and symphonic nature that the style of Wick action employs. Tactical reloads and pinpoint accuracy flutter through this concierto of gunfire before Wick delves into the clearly Enter The Dragon inspired exhibit titled “Reflections of The Soul”.
“You’re addicted to it…the vengeance…it’s all you have.”
This part of the sequence in itself truly cements the impeccable prowess of this crew. Both beautiful and haunting, the mirror fight is equal parts guttural and emotionally charged. Santino torments John about the killer instinct in him, while John faces himself along the corridors as pristine glass. I can only imagine how Chapter Three will try to one-up this.
Chapter Two is a shining example of a sequel that lives up to the mark and sets a new franchise high. With a compelling as ever performance from Reeves, alongside a host of colourful new characters, Chapter Two firmly sticks the landing as a shot of dynamite laced action and engrossing expansion of the Wick lore. This isn’t just an action movie. This is John Wick’s movie.