If you could accept the initially flimsy premise – that Keanu Reeves’ retired hitman was compelled to load up his guns again because a mobster’s son killed his dog – 2015’s original John Wick film was a slick and gripping action thriller.
This sequel, directed by Chad Stahelski, who also co-directed the original, offers similar thrills and spills on a grander scale. Here, Wick is forced out of retirement (again) when an Italian gangster redeems a blood oath against him. With gruff reluctance, Wick travels to Rome to kill the gangster’s sister as prescribed, but when he succeeds, it sets off a chain reaction. Not only does her loyal bodyguard Cassian (Common) want payback, but the gangster sneakily places a $7 million open contract on Wick’s head, as it would be “dishonourable” not to avenge his sister’s death – even though he ordered it. When Wick returns to New York City, every assassin in town is after his blood.
Like the original film, John Wick: Chapter Two requires a hefty suspension of disbelief: many of its bloody murders take place in public places, but no one ever seems to report them. Nevertheless, Reeves’ turn feels believable and dovetails entertainingly with some flashy supporting performances. He and Laurence Fishburne, playing a camp crime lord called The Bowery King, riff winningly on their old The Matrix chemistry. Game Of Thrones’ Ian McShane, reprising his godfather-like role from the first film, is typically charismatic.
But as ever, it’s the action that dazzles. Stahelski choreographs the killing sprees with gruesome elegance and the flick contains genuinely tense and unpredictable moments. John Wick: Chapter Two ends by beating a very clear path towards a third film. This kind of signposting sometimes feels like a cheat, but here it works because you’ll leave feeling both satisfied and intrigued. Bring on Chapter Three.