Sgt. Pepper (aka Johnny Kashmir)’s review published on Letterboxd:
The American action film scene has undergone an understated rebirth in the past few years. A small strain of recent fare including Mad Max: Fury Road among others have stood out among the masses of uninspired films through refraining from the use of shaky cam and excessive editing among other techniques. Some also look beyond the confines of American cinema via the stylistic influence from foreign action that, for example, 2014’s John Wick have ridden to critical and popular acclaim. That film’s sequel, John Wick: Chapter 2, manages to bring wholesale improvement to the table, resulting in one of the most exhilarating action films of the year, and possibly the decade.
Set shortly after ambiguously employed protagonist John Wick sought revenge against the Tasarov clan that stole the final mementos of his marriage, the former assassin finds himself reeled once again into the his profession. The culprit this time is his profession’s obligation to pay off a blood oath. However, in fulfilling this tenet of the Continental creed John may truly realize the pools of blood he’s waded into.
Like its predecessor, John Wick: Chapter 2 admittedly lacks a particularly complex narrative. While the first film made sure to utilize its opening minutes to set up personal stakes for its ensuing bloodbaths, its sequel doesn’t quite deliver the same emotional stakes. Compensating for this, however, is Chapter 2’s providing sly characterization via its protagonist’s actions. More is learned from Wick as he becomes progressively more weary of the way of the hitman despite his possible enjoyment of his dangerous profession. DOubly contributing to the heart of the film is its sustained world-building. The notion of an assassin underbelly within the rest of the world certainly elevated the first Wick film, and the laws it sets forth work in service of thrills and story. Those factors, combined with entertaining dynamics between actors and a nigh-perfect sequel hook result in a reasonably adequate backdrop for the film’s elegant gun fu sequences.
John Wick: Chapter 2 retains its predecessor’s dedication to stylish yet brutal fights. Director Chad Stahelski already proved his action-crafting prowess with the first John Wick’s clean camera movements and genuine choreography; However, his inventiveness combined with a larger budget and Keanu Reeves’ considerable talent with a gun help nearly all the action sequences in this film rival or surpass the now-famous nightclub sequence of the original. THe use of visually striking locations and lighting prove to be a major boon for the film, whether it be from an azure shroud upon Roman catacombs or the wan backdrops of New York train stations. For all his skill John Wick cannot escape vulnerability, averting the fights from becoming too one-sided - in fact, there are more characters here that prove to be a more viable match for John, such as the bodyguard Cassian, played by Common with the steel-eyed intensity one might expect from this role.
In short, John Wick: Chapter 2 will deliver the goods for anyone who enjoys the brand of sleek, hard-R action established by the original. Count me in for Chapter 3.