Keanu Reeves & Company extend the lore, spectacle and insurance policies in ‘JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2’

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

The world of JOHN WICK (Keanu Reeves) is one of struggle and sadness – and a tremendous amount of stunt work. In JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2, we find our titular hero continuing to avenge the tragic death of his puppy and seeking the return of his beloved Mustang. But as soon as he closes the chapter on that part of his life, another one begins – one that involves making good on a long forgotten blood oath.

Director Chad Stahelski’s highly anticipated sequel dives deeper into the legend and underground society our favorite morally conflicted hero used to haunt. And this absolutely killer plays like a shot of adrenaline straight in the heart for action movie fans.

The spectacle of the stunts may have increased, but the insurance policies surprisingly didn’t double, producer Basil Iwanyk revealed at the Los Angeles press conference.

There’s what we tell the studio we’re doing and then what we actually do. If they knew some of the stunts that Chad made the actors do, maybe we would not have had the approval, but we did it anyway.

Because the filmmakers had somewhat of a structured plan, ideas for the sequel’s action-driven set pieces were always percolating. Stahelski stated,

There was a couple of things we held back from that we didn’t get to put in the first JOHN WICK, or things that we initially wanted to do and then expanded on in the second that Mr. Reeves got to do. When we were asked to do the sequel, we were very flattered and very hopeful, but it’s always a challenge to do something original and build on what you’ve already built. When Keanu, myself, Derek and Basil all got together, we thought, ‘Okay. If we’re going to do a sequel, how do we do this?’ What everyone felt affection for was the world building we had done – the underworld of assassins, the Continental mythology. We really wanted to expand on that. We wanted to show a little more insight into that world – what John Wick did in that world and all the colorful characters we could put in that world. That’s where we started from. And how to build our own mythology and storytelling through it.

That doesn’t mean they weren’t flexible in developing things in the moment. Common, who plays Wick’s pursuing antagonist assassin Cassian, explained,

Fighting in the streets of Rome was exciting and difficult. Chad is brilliant in creating things, but he also has a spontaneity to him, which I really love. Some of the things he presented were new but it brought an energy.

Reeves added,

After you hit me with the car and we got that little, impromptu gun fight. We cooked that up there. The Cassian-John fight before we crash into the Continental, I think that was the most difficult fight technically because we didn’t have all the jujitsu experience and had the guns. We had to go through that process of learning how to walk. That one had the longest tail. When you look at it, it’s got a real combustion and intensity to it.

Screenwriter Derek Kolstad was up for the challenge of blending Wick’s past with his present.

It was awesome, but difficult. We had alluded to it being much bigger than it really was. One of the movies we brought up all the time was RONAN, where a number of times a character would say, ‘Do I know you by way of the German?’ And it would never come up again. But just that allusion is like, ‘There’s a bigger world.’ JOHN WICK 2 went through so many iterations, but even though it was a trying development process, everyone loved the character and loved the world so much that we kept each other accountable to the point. One of the things we always loved about this is you allude to a world but you never show all of it. Because as soon as you show the shark, it’s never as cool. We always went by that guideline.

Reeves also proudly declared,

There were no animals hurt during the production of this film.

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 opens on February 10.

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Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.