“John Wick: Chapter 2” is the perfect example of a sequel done right

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This article was originally published for the University of Denver newspaper, the DU Clarion. It has been republished here with permission. The original can be found here.

If there was any kind of entertainment that needed a kick in the teeth over the past decade, it was the action film. In an era where Hollywood was boring people to death with the same kinds of action plots and characters over and over again, “John Wick” arrived to tell the story of a quiet hitman thrust back into a strange criminal underworld to avenge his murdered dog. It was quite unlike anything anyone had ever seen before, and now “John Wick: Chapter 2” has arrived to deliver a sequel in the same manner.

“Chapter 2” follows Wick (Keanu Reeves, “The Matrix”) as he is once again forced to abandon his retirement when an Italian mobster (Riccardo Scamarcio, “Burnt”) who helped him leave his criminal life behind wants him to return the favor. After the subsequent job results in a bounty on his life, Wick must fight to survive as the entire criminal underworld comes after him.

It all sounds a little recycled, but the beauty of a “John Wick” film is that it takes this basic premise and throws it into an obsessively realized world populated with fantastic characters. Everything about the film is a step above its modern action contemporaries, from the style to the world building. It’s basically a bullet-ridden fairy tale.

What makes the sequel so impressive is that it capitalizes marvelously on the promises of its predecessor. All the curious details are still here: the special criminal currency of gold coins, the hotels while assassins must play nice or face execution by management and the endless roster of unique bit characters that serve to make the world all the more colorful. From a mute and mischievous bodyguard (Ruby Rose, “Orange is the New Black”) to an eccentric king of an assassin’s guild comprised of New York City’s homeless (Laurence Fishburne, “The Matrix”), characters who spend only mere minutes on screen are expertly realized and serve as brilliant foils to the often silent anger of Reeve’s Wick. The world in which these films take place is alone worth the price of admission.

While this is all good fun, it’s of course the action that’s the star of the show. Reeves, who famously trains extremely hard for the role, looks smooth as hell as he expertly puts down countless assassins and henchmen with a unique mix of shooting and kung-fu. The movie is a high-octane ride that only gets more ridiculous as it goes on, gleefully pushing the limits at every turn. It’s an absolute thrill to watch, and it’s made all the better by some improvements over the first film in terms of the script. There’s a wit here that the first film sometimes lacked, and it fuels the cool attitude of the film as it knowingly presents its preposterously fun set pieces. As Wick and an enemy fire walk stone-faced through a oblivious crowd shooting silenced guns at each other or as he takes out attackers with a pencil, the film is coolly confident knowing just how crazy entertaining it is. “John Wick: Chapter 2” knows exactly what its audience wants, and it delivers it with gloriously wild aplomb.

Ryan Ninesling