John Wick: Chapter 2: Keanu Reeves Really, Really Knows Kung-Fu

John Wick: Chapter 2 Plot Summary:

After settling the score with the Tarasov family, hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) goes back into retirement.  When a former associate (Riccardo Scamarcio) reminds Wick of a blood pact, it forces him back on the job where everything spirals out of control, putting Wick right in the middle of a war within the very society he works for.

Keanu Reeves must drink the same Gatorade Tom Cruise does.  They’ve both crossed the 50 mark, but are still kicking ass and taking names.  The idea of a John Wick sequel seemed silly.  He’s a cool character, but there’s not much else you can do with him.  I suppose he could slaughter more people in brutal fashion.  Well, that’s exactly what they do, and I got say, it’s pretty damn entertaining.  This succeeds where so many other flash in the pan sequels like Taken or Jack Reacher fail.  They don’t simply rinse and repeat.

The first two minutes were a little shaky.  It was loud and obnoxious, very Xander Cage-esque, including a ridiculously hammed up villain (Peter Stormare). I could almost see the ham bleeding out of his eyes.  Once John Wick comes into frame though, everything’s fine.  Holy mother-in-law, do they up the brutality.  This is no holds barred, blunt force trauma.  While not as violent as a Quentin Tarantino movie, it feels harsher.  They balance that line between realism and cartoonish beautifully.  I’m shocked the reviews are so high, as the violence is pure and utter insanity.  The sound is the film’s greatest strength and weakness.  While way too loud at times, it’s highly effective.  It felt like I got punched in the face when I walked out of the theater.

Unlike the choppy editing of so many other piss poor action films, this is clean, crisp and gorgeous.  The fight choreography is flawless.  The filmmakers also get real creative with the action.  There’s a moment where John and a fellow assassin, played by Common, are on opposite escalators.  What they do here is really cool and slick.  Then you have the final set piece, which is like an upscale house of mirrors with an explosion of colors.  This is what separates good action movies from the garbage that is xXx and Fast & Furious.

Through all the punches and kicks to the face and groin, this movie still manages to slow down for quiet character moments. Part of what made the first film stand out were those first twenty minutes that beautifully allude to Wick’s past and current emotional state.  We get more of the same, as John continues to lament for his wife (Bridget Moynahan), but it’s still compelling.

It’s all about Wick, but the film is populated with great supporting players. John Leguizamo is back. It’s not a big role, but who doesn’t appreciate a John Leguizamo appearance? Ian McShane plays a larger role this time around as the de-facto President of this Skulls like society of assassins. His role is much meatier here, with great dialogue.

The adversaries are hit or miss. Common is fine, as is the jackass who drags Wick out of retirement. He’s also got a ruthless sister, played by Claudia Gerini. She’s fine in the role, but her big moment with Wick is weird and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The best villain is a deaf woman named Ares, played wonderfully by Ruby Rose. She has a quiet intensity, and her and Wick easily have the best exchanges.

Aside from the characters, the film does a great job of expanding Wick’s world, which all great sequels do. Anytime you get a scene where two guys nearly slit each other’s throats one minute, but share some bourbon the next is interesting. While all these rules are a benefit to the film, it’s also a detriment. There’s a TON of convenient characters that appear out of thin air just to move the plot along. While I enjoyed the reunion between Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne, his character is forced into this movie worse than Samuel L. Jackson in Iron Man 2.

While a tight screenplay, it does run a bit long. As entertaining as it is to see John Wick shoot through a bunch of Bloodsport and Punch-Out villains, we get to a point where enough is enough. While the ever expanding world of John Wick is utterly fascinating, the last scene gets completely absurd. Seriously, how secret is this organization when it feels like the entire city of New York is involved. That’s why as good as this movie is, I’m not sure how gung-ho I am about John Wick: Chapter 3, which this movie practically screams in your face is happening.

As far as John Wick: Chapter 2 is concerned, it’s one hell of an entertaining ass kicking ride.  If you liked the first movie, you’ll LOVE this bad boy.  It manages to avoid many sequel tropes.  That alone gets it a high endorsement.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very Good)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.