John Wick: Chapter 2 Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose. Directed by Chad Stahelski. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.
There wasn’t really anything in 2014 revenge thriller John Wick that called out for a follow-up, but every surprise hit gets a sequel, warranted or not, so here we have John Wick: Chapter 2, regardless of necessity. At least the original creative team is back: Keanu Reeves returns as the title character, a weary, unstoppable assassin who just wants to retire in peace, and director Chad Stahelski and screenwriter Derek Kolstad return to give him another reason not to. The plot of Chapter 2 isn’t as elegant as in the first movie, which found John tracking down and killing the men who murdered his dog and stole his car (both of which were mementos of his late wife).
After a thrilling opening sequence in which John finally gets his car back (one of the few hanging plot points from the previous movie), Chapter 2 switches gears, bringing in an Italian mob boss (Riccardo Scamarcio) who invokes one of the ironclad rules of the movie’s detailed assassin subculture to force John into one final assignment. From there, things naturally escalate, until John has nearly every assassin in New York City (and beyond) out for his blood.
The story lacks the laser focus of the original (and goes on for 20 minutes longer), and the increased emphasis on franchise-building and mythology (up to an annoyingly blatant sequel-baiting ending) is a distraction, but Stahelski still knows how to stage stunning action sequences (a scene toward the end of the movie set in a hall of mirrors-style art exhibit is sure to go down as one of the best of the year), and Reeves still effectively embodies John’s laconic badassery. Add in Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne and Ruby Rose as colorful underworld figures, and you have the ingredients for an entertaining, ultraviolent and occasionally witty thriller. This time around, it’s no surprise.