One could easily argue John Wick didn’t need a Chapter 2. This sleeper hit was a crystalline model of B-movie simplicity, a sleek, pleasingly straightforward, self-contained revenge actioner that blessed Keanu Reeves with a career-jump-starting role. But the film’s tantalising, comic booky world-building elements were hard to ignore, teasing at the potential of exploring the larger universe around its characters.
Three years later this visibly upsized sequel does just that, amplifying its secret-society-of-assassins premise to the next appropriate level. It’s a more audacious, visually adventurous effort, matching expertly choreographed knife-to-the-balls Wickian ultraviolence with strikingly Baroque, even hallucinatory, mise-en-scène. Few action films can evoke the neon-glazed urbanity of Michael Mann one minute, and conjure the Gothic spectre of Countess Bathory next.
Perhaps peppered with more franchise-expanding breadcrumb droppings than necessary, Chapter 2 can occasionally feel a little underbaked for its roomy two-hour duration. But luxuriating in its surfaces is an undeniably intoxicating experience. Derek Kolstad’s script throws Wick into ancient Roman catacombs and ornate New York art museums, imagines buskers and hobos as covert killers and underground telcom networks that still use pneumatic tubes, switchboards and typewriters.
Lance Reddick and Ian McShane are welcome returning faces from the original, while Common makes a formidable opponent for Wick (Ruby Rose, as a mute bodyguard, is unfortunately less so). At the centre, Reeves has by now mastered the requisite contours of his character: part cragged-faced bravado of Charles Bronson, part school-of-cool of Alain Delon. Ultimately Chapter 2 transforms Wick’s clockwork, ritualistic headshots into something alternately musical and surreal. It’s the sort of film that sees a perverse ballet duet in a staircase tumble and doesn’t forget the resourcefulness of a well-placed pencil.