John Wick: Chapter 2 is the kind of action movie I want to see thrive and re-ignite a wave of more competently made action movies. It has a strong opening, a great understanding of camera composition and focus, and a tight grip on choreographed action sequences. I’m not kidding when I say this movie is very close to being non-stop action. Not only are the fight scenes clear and easy-to-follow on account of the action geography being executed phenomenally, but they’re really creative too. Hand-to-hand combat involves holds, flips, and targeting vital areas as quickly as possible. Gunfights vary between what is essentially video game shootouts to gun martial arts, or “gun-fu”. And knife fights are still as unnerving to watch as ever.
John Wick 2 is an action movie in more than one sense. The characters are action-heavy, and ooze tacit individuality. The signified locations not only add to Wick’s reputation and help flesh-out the world bit by bit, but also act as a nice solid foundation for the action to feel at home with added verisimilitude.
I’m not mentioning any scenes in particular, because I went in without much exposure (barring the trailer) and found even the little moments and subtle details to be pleasantly surprising. It’s certainly a refreshing change of pace from typical action flicks nowadays. If you want a recommendation, there it is. Go see John Wick 2. If you need anymore convincing, continue reading on.
Most of the time, Wick will be the center of attention, as he engages in the dance of combat, making short work of any who dare to try and oppose him with quick and precise gunshots. His movements are decisive and full of finesse. There is rarely ever a moment where it is only Wick and another bumping heads, since there are hardly any who can go one-on-one with Wick. Both movies are operatic, in the sense that the action is so tightly choreographed and filmed so elegantly that it practically resembles the sensation of seeing a dance routine.
The John Wick movies, especially Chapter 2, evoke the power fantasy of being an unstoppable force of nature, able to deal with any (violent) situation with minimal difficulty, regardless of who is after you and what weapons you have at your disposal.
While there most definitely are instances of sheer awe and astonishment in the action sequences, the movie primarily draws attention to Wick mowing down rushing enemies, while rarely cutting to other characters. However, by normalizing Wick’s devastation of the opposition, it makes it all the more thrilling when a true adversary comes his way. Compared to the myriad of criminals he just annihilated, Cassian is Wick’s most tenacious challenger so far, requiring a great deal more effort to eliminate. The movies are about momentum, and maintain an almost video game-like structure to them, which only further enhances the idea that John Wick is an almighty badass. He’s more of a stylish and deadly aspiration than someone you can relate to, because he is so proficient and hyper-competent.
There’s an inviting feel to the movies that allows you to project yourself as Wick in those scenarios. And while it does tease questions surrounding Wick’s morality and possible guilt, it’s swept aside by the amazing staged balletic action. It sort of sacrifices weight for spectacle in its brutality and bloodshed. But that doesn’t falter it, as John Wick 2 is still capable of introducing new tidbits of mythos – whether it be hinting at someone’s past, or a clearer view of its world of crime. The sequel does a good job expanding the universe without getting too convoluted. It flirts with story rather than forcing a lot of exposition on the audience, keeping on the right side of simplicity, and trusting that you’ll be able to read between the lines.
Bare bones stories like John Wick are refreshing because they focus only on what they need to (that being the action) and leave room to broaden and deepen everything else later at a natural pace. John Wick 2 has a firm sense of identity with its character interactions, setting, and the rules that govern the film’s world. A world full of peculiar aspects like intricate networks connected to the criminal underground and comprised of a plethora of assassins and spies hidden around every corner isn’t something you want to get too intimate with so soon. But something you’d prefer to be baited with and revealed at a more opportune time. Which is why it’s best that John Wick 2 keeps it relatively simple.
Oddly enough, I found the movie to be quite humorous in a lot of parts. For a movie to be so emotionless and pumped full of dehumanized action, I’m surprised at how many times I laughed while watching it. Whether it be simple gestures and brief moments between characters, or just the sheer ridiculous levels of violence happening on-screen. I suppose you could make some comparison to the likes of Jackie Chan movies, where the action lends itself to a sort of embellished slapstick comedy routine.
The intensity from action scenes stem more from duration and ingenuity than danger. It’s not so much about whether Wick will survive, as it is wondering how he will escape situations. By the time an action sequence ends, or seems like it’s ending, you almost feel out of breath just watching it. Which sort of helps put you in Wick’s worn and weary shoes.
Even when given limited screen time, characters manage to leave a strong impression on camera, such as Winston’s charming and civilized demeanour, Aurelio’s humour, and affable friendship with Wick, and even the newcomers get their chance in the spotlight, if only for a few scenes. I have a personal bias for (badass) mute characters, and despite her short amount of time on-screen, actress Ruby Rose does a fine job as the saucy Ares, in large part to her amusing performance with sign language (and subtitles).
There’s not a single character I didn’t like. Casting-wise, everyone feels like they belong. And the role of John Wick fits the hard-working Keanu Reeves like a glove. He appears to be fully embracing the character and his dedication shows. You definitely get a sense of perfectionism not just from the action scenes, but the mannerisms of the characters and the implied history with John Wick, as well as the world they inhabit. There’s a willingness from everyone to make sure whatever is on-screen looks good. Chad Stahelski definitely knows what he’s doing while in the director’s seat. He has a remarkably keen eye for directing and shooting action, and when coupled with a perfectionist like Reeves, who understands and is capable of performing said action, it forms a match made in heaven.
Thematically, the movies are about revenge and personal ties with Wick; a man full of action and not so many words, as the titular center of attraction. It’s refreshing to have characters with simple motivations, and John Wick certainly fits the bill. There’s an ambiguity and an amorality to everything that I really appreciate and works wonderfully within the world. Because it’s so minimalistic – the movie keeps its narrative and characters simple, which makes focusing on the action much easier to engage with. There’s no need to delve into the relationship/history between Jimmy the cop and Wick, because the slice of interactions we get between them is enough to form an idea for ourselves.
I really appreciate the action-heavy focus and “less is more” approach to storytelling, where action IS character: Wick mowing down rooms full of enemies, when all he wants to do is stay retired shows that he is so accustomed to his old life that it’s practically an addiction at this point – or at least, that’s what the other characters seem to imply.
While the narrative isn’t anything spectacular, it does act in support of the action, characters and world. World-building doesn’t expose too much and still manages to keep the mystery and intrigue alive while opening more doors and windows into the criminal underground for the next movie to explore.
If nothing else, John Wick 2 has made me excited to see (action) movies again! And I can’t stress enough how badly I want to see more action movies like this continue being made!
Edit: Check out Rossatron’s video for a better comparison to action movies