P.S. some spoilers be ahead.
The John Wick series has captured the essence of a video game, reboot, and comic book movie all nicely wrapped up in electrical tape; it is both not specifically any of these things and all of them, at the same time. He has the aim of Hawkeye, the durability of Marv from Sin City, and the unquenched thirst for vengeance of Frank Castle; never is there a moment where he is slowed down for long, his drive and precision will not allow it. He is the One, the perfect amalgamation of 21st century action movie (anti-) heroes; Jason Bourne, Brian Mills, Ethan Hunt, and Scott Pilgrim have nothing on John Wick. In true action movie fashion, the John Wick series has set a precedent for future action movies to follow; on the ever-growing kick-ass meter, movies such as John Wick, Dredd, and The Raid: Redemption are the new barometers for how movie critics and enthusiasts judge future action flicks. Strong movies, which have laid down a foundation of innovation and homage.
A key difference in the second movie compared to the first is the enhancement of world building and action that saturates the overall plot. In Chapter Two, the sequences move akin to a movie like 2005’s King Kong where once the action starts, it does not peter out until whole swaths of baddie-fodder are completely decimated. Where the first movie’s dialogue consisted of filling in the audience with John Wick’s backstory and why he went back into the world of assassin’s, Chapter Two plunges the narrative into the world of the assassin’s guild, and the connection of the Continental to the mythos of the John Wick universe. The overseer, dungeon master, and counselor of the Continental; the man who keeps John Wick in line as he further descends into the world he so hard tried to leave, is Winston, played succinctly by Ian McShane. He provides insight and boundaries as John saddles up to his, oath; as difficult and treacherous as Wick’s journey will be, maintaining relative order in the realm of assassins in no dog and pony show either.
The way the rules are set up regarding the Continental, and how they trickle down to the assassins, is a concept that felt increasingly confusing as the movie continued. Essentially, because John Wick followed the rules and met all the guidelines to accomplish his goals, only to be brought back in through a blood oath initiated a catch twenty-two situation in which there was no escape for John. Anything he did out of the boundaries of the rules, or within, left in a position where he would have to fend for his life; eventually, the sects and overlords have to realize that placing a bounty on his head would end up destroying entire fabrics of this world in way that reminded me of the scorched earth devastation that took place in God of War 3. The only group who stayed neutral to a degree were the bum assassins, perhaps because the Bowery King, portrayed by Laurence Fishburne, knew better than to mess with the One guy who had the potential to undo the foundation of this world. Speaking of which, what a cheeky nod to a past movie franchise where a man dressed in black and insurmountable skill faced against countless enemies. This was a nice meta-break to pace the action in between; a little wink and nod letting the audience know, “yeah, we thought you might like this.” Same goes for the pencil trick spoken in haunting tones in the first movie, although, it was not as sweet as The Bourne Identity or Dark Knight renditions of a writing utensil used unexpectedly in a situation where the audience goes, “wait what happened there?”
Despite the fine job Ian McShane did, and the wonderful reprieve of Laurence Fishburne, the main antagonists fell to a shade above obvious archetypes consistent with the action movie universe; the jealous family member who wants the power for himself so he lifts some old clause to bring our (anti)-hero back, and the older sibling who tragically is made the sacrifice in order for John Wick to regain his quiet life he so desperately wants to maintain. I mean, they were not bad performances, and I am not expecting villains with Machiavellian schemes of world domination, but if I had to choose a loose end to nitpick, brother blood and sister tub fell into the Marvel universe/Snyder-verse trap of villains with little to no urgency outside of the plot; an obstacle for the protagonist to hurdle no different than the pawn baddies.
John Wick: Chapter Two was a pristine example of the formula of a sequel: not as shocking or innovative as the first, yet built upon the world building as the events of the first movie wrapped up, focusing less on a single entity of villains and undamming a flood of conspirators and organizations that make the first mob look out-matched by comparison. Now the real test, is to see if the third movie capitalizes on all the aspects of the first and second and bring to us, the movie goers, a cataclysmic shift in the story of John Wick, will he die? Or will he not? Regardless, I would like to see the body count of all three movies.