Posted on March 1, 2017
Yeah, let’s face it. When you go into a theater to see a movie with a number in the title, you’ve already subconsciously set the bar really low. To my mind, there have only been three great sequels: Godfather 2, Aliens, and Terminator 2. I don’t know if John Wick: Chapter 2 belongs on that list, but it is definitely better than 99% of all sequels out there.
Spoilers for John Wick: Chapter 2 follow
The most egregious sin committed by sequels is just retelling the same story as the first movie over again with new characters. An excellent (and terrible) example of this is Die Hard 2: More Dying Harder. All they did was move John McClane from Towering Inferno to Airport 77 and replace the Eurotrash terrorists with American terrorists. Oh, and they managed to cut out the humanizing elements that dealt with his family and friendships.
JWC2 tips its hand early on that it intends to do exactly this by opening just a few days after the original — I guess long enough for him to recover from all the physical damage? — with an assault on another branch of the Russian mafia, this time to get his car back.
My heart just sank while watching this scene. Don’t get me wrong, it’s some great action, but it was a straight up confession that they were just going back over the same territory in the second movie.
Until they didn’t.
When JW pours out two shots and shares them with the head mobster as an offer of peace, I realized I had just been the victim of a fantastic bait and switch. Knowing everyone coming into the theater would be secretly dreading a retread of the original, they did that entire movie as the opening scene.
Then the real movie starts.
And that’s not the last time JWC2 zigs when you expect it to zag. The story is delightfully adroit at meeting expectations and then exceeding them. It has enough of the original characters — The Continental Hotel of Assassins and its honorable owner played by Ian McShane, the colorful verging on comic book crime organizations, etc. — to feel familiar, but it also moves on from the original story to tell a new one.
Let’s be honest. When your name’s in the title, the movie is, above all else, about you and one of the strengths of the first movie was the gradual peeling back the layers of the John Wick character. This was helped by Keanu Reeves’ uncanny ability to underplay certain roles while lending them nearly absurd levels of gravitas.
For this movie to cover new ground, we have to learn more about him and explore more of his world. The trip to Rome accomplishes this in a nearly Bondian way, introducing us to a bevy of expert suppliers who can rebuild his armor and his armory and get him to his intended target.
This is where we once again veer into well trod territory and start to get that sinking feeling that the Hollywood screenwriter’s standard playbook is about to be broken out and used for a speedy exit from the story.
But, once again, the moment you expect doesn’t come and is replaced with a subversive twist. He never even gets a chance to take out his target. He watches her commit suicide, instead. It’s almost as if a punch-up writer went through the script and plucked out all the predictable elements and replaced them with the kind of screwballs that actually happen in life.
The rest of the movie, up to the final few minutes, is the payoff. One long, running gunfight with an astronomical body count and a brief, cherished reunion with Laurence Fishburne, that ultimately leads to the best possible ending they could have come up with for this movie.
It changes the entire situation, raises the stakes, and removes JW’s support system, leaving just him, an empty gun, and his dog against the entire criminal underworld. I don’t know about you, but I’m already counting the days until Chapter 3.