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.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Back in 2014, JOHN WICK was hailed as the next great thing. It was a simple equation: take one badass antihero, add an unrelenting emotional drive fueled by vengeance, a handful of spectacularly choreographed and competently shot action sequences, and it equals critical and commercial success. While the original was fantastic, albeit slightly flawed, JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 is a goddamn revelation. Director Chad Stahelski’s highly anticipated sequel more than delivers on its promise to be not just a great action movie, but a great movie. Period.
Returning screenwriter Derek Kolstad’s plot is once again kept lean. The semi-laconic, world’s worst retiree (played by Keanu Reeves) simply wouldn’t have it any other way. As the first film dealt with Wick’s rage-cloaked grief over his dead wife (Bridget Moynahan) and murdered puppy, the next chapter in the saga deals with the fallout. Wick has opened himself up for the consequences of his actions to follow him home. It’s not long after the dust settles that Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), the man who owns Wick’s marker – or “blood oath” stating he’d never return to action – comes a’callin’. Since Wick isn’t one to welch on a promise, he’s pushed into hitman life one more time. However, it forces him to dodge a multitude of other assassins – like antagonist Cassian (Common) and D’Antonio’s deaf right hand woman Ares (Ruby Rose).
Stahelski knows that it’s not enough to rely on sensational action-driven set pieces. It’s abundantly clear that he’s utilizing each of these awesome-injected vignettes as a storytelling device. Each sequence leads into the next, into the next, into the next, culminating in a brutal, bloody fall down a neon-lit rabbit hole. Things get even more charged for the viewer when Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard’s score drops out – and all we hear is the foley of symphonic car engines, or fists hitting flesh, or gunfire blazing. Visuals become delightfully trippier the further Wick’s journey takes him into this fascinating world. Indelible imagery – like the “reflections of the soul” hall of mirrors, and the crisp white walls of the subway station – is awe-inducing. Dan Laustsen’s cinematography dazzles. It’s a glee-filled trip witnessing the filmmakers’ uncompromising vision spring to life – as it is a wish-fulfillment of sorts seeing bad guys get hit by cars or ruthlessly killed.
Similar to the original, we’re given information about this criminal underworld on a strict, “need to know” basis. Kolstad and co aren’t quick to give away all their cards, nor do they ever overplay their hands. We go deep enough into the Continental’s lore and rules. There’s a method – a refined gentlemanly aspect – to all this macho, assertive posturing and pomp. Gadgetry, gunplay and sharp tailoring are the tools they trade in. Great craft and care is evident in how they fill in already-discussed details and lay the foundation for new ones. Their world-building is on point.
Though the resonant satisfaction of seeing dog-killers offed is muted ever so slightly, as no dogs are harmed in this iteration, and it does lag for about ten minutes when the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) is introduced, on the whole, the film’s drive produces a killer electricity and tone. Atmosphere carries it further. JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 will be number one with a bullet in the hearts of all series fans.
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 opens on February 10.