Released in 2014, John Wick introduced us to a secret underworld of organised crime and assassins shown through the eyes of the title character John Wick (Keanu Reeves). As an ex-hitman he comes out of retirement to enact retribution on the people who killed his puppy. Yes, you read that correctly, his puppy. The puppy happens to be the last gift that his wife Helen (Bridget Moynahan), who dies from natural causes, gives to him after her passing. Knowing that John would struggle to cope with her death, Helen in-effect gives John a purpose to live and at the same time remember her by nurturing and caring for the puppy.
John Wick: Chapter 2 picks up not long after the first film has ended, tying up the loose ends that were left from the previous chapter. Having found a new canine friend all John wants is to once again disappear into retirement putting his hitman days behind him. However, mob boss Santino D’Anonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) wants to cash in on a blood oath that was formed between himself and John back when John was a hitman.
Keanu Reeves has never been known for his Oscar worthy acting ability and the John Wick films are not going to change opinion on that. However, what we witness in Chapter 1 is a man so consumed by the love he has for his wife Helen, when her final gift for him is ripped from his life he will stop at nothing to enact revenge on all those involved. Despite neither film featuring a scene with John and Helen together, we accept this strong love they have for one another. The only glimpse we have of them together is from a short clip on a beach that John filmed. John repeatedly watches this on his mobile phone throughout both films. In the clip Helen being camera-shy asks ‘John ,what are you doing?’ This simple sentence when said on the beach was for two people deeply in love, but it takes on a new meaning as John watches it lying in a pool of his own blood.
The only other time we see the love between John and Helen conveyed is through the actions and emotion that Keanu Reeves brings to the character of John Wick. These elements and the drive behind Johns character are to an extent cast aside in Chapter 2 which leaves the film feeling cold and void of human relationships, an essential building block for any film. To give an example of this, even The Fast and the Furious films have a very basic plot that the films story and action are built upon which is family.
If Chapter 2 was a standalone film, not linked to John Wick, and followed the same plot it would be a very average film. It is a long draw out film and has nowhere near the heart or emotional emphasis Chapter 1 conveyed. What we have is a story about an ex-hitmans own self-preservation due to a debt he owes and this contradicts the character of John Wick we were originally introduced to.
However, if you want a good “popcorn” movie, when compared to the latest Resident Evil and XXX sequels, then this is the first film this year that has ticked all the boxes. The action is fast paced and well edited. The precision with head shots and capping that John Wick displayed in the original and his ability to adapt to fighting in any environment are still present as are stereotypical bad guys and allies. You know what you’re going to get with this type of film and it doesn’t disappoint.
What the John Wick films have accomplished exceptionally well is the world in which they are set, this is further established in Chapter 2. A world that is heavily influenced by the underworld, where hitmen and assassins are in abundance and businesses cater for all needs. It’s very much like Harry Potters world but for hitmen. It’s this which draws you into the films of John Wick. The hotels that are known as the Continental, a neutral territory for anyone no matter their differences, are a very intriguing concept. Ian Mcshane as Winston, the hotel owner grabs you and pulls you into the world despite his short presence time on-screen. The tailors that John visits to get measured for his ‘work suit’ and the code words used for how he wants it tailored. The telephone operators who all wear the same retro uniform and display similar tattoos, housed in a building to take calls and post new contracts on hits also add to this. Laurence Fishburne as the Bowery King is another layer and a compelling one (it was also great to see Lawrence and Keanu together again since The Matrix films). All these help establish the world in which John Wick lives. They grab you and pull you right in, because you want to see, you want to know more about what goes on in this world and how it works.
John Wick film was a very enjoyable film. Chapter 2 is basically more of the same but where it lacks in plot and character development, it expands and develops the world in which these characters live. With talks of a John Wick TV Series in the works and the obvious pending Chapter 3 looming, we can only look forward to more of this coming our way. What Chapter 2 has established is that maybe the character of John Wick is not essential for future stories or plots and perhaps the focus needs to be on characters that can help expand the world created, as further focus on John Wick could hinder, and make a potentially intriguing concept dull and repetitive.