I still fondly remember seeing the first one on a lark. “Ah what the heck…I don’t mind Keanu.” What I then received, despite the theatre being empty was one of the best action movies of that year and arguably the next. Of course, everyone who did see it got others to see it and word of mouth of this diamond in the rough spread and a cult phenomenon formed around the little movie that could. It deserved the attention. It stands out amongst action movies with a very low end, for Hollywood, budget of $20 million – which it went and doubled domestic and quadrupled world wide. That isn’t counting after market sales once it left theatres. Again – it is right to have this praise. I ended the last review saying we need Hollywood to pay attention to it and learn from it.
Well they got it half right. They paid attention and gave us a sequel. Sadly I cannot think of a movie since 2014 that is such a magnificently choreographed ballet of bullets and blood. Sure we’ve had good action movies, I’ve seen most of them, but most of the time I am complaining about the camera work or editing.
The question is – Is the magic that made John Wick back or should it have stayed in retirement?
The pen of Derek Kolstad returns to the script, not really having worked on anything since the last film. He had a task I have seen many fail at before. Write a script for a sequel to a movie a lot of people liked, but closed its ending quite nicely. How do you bring your principle character out of retirement – twice. How do you get people to care about the story? How do you avoid rehashing the literal same story or other story again? Time and time again people fail at this when going to sequels. Usually they are rushed, but he had at least a year to write and they had a year to film before this release. The time helped. Kolstad told the story that we came out of the last one wanting more of. He brought us more into the world of Hitmen, Coins, and The Continental. I do admit I want more of that world, and it delivered. For those familiar with the World of Darkness, take notes – you have good source material here. Is the plot complex? No. Is it more than avenging the death of his dog. Yes. What you should take away from it is that he bothered with a plot rather than a thinly veiled way to string together gunfights. Thank you Derek. We mean it.
At the helm is previous director Chad Staheleski, minus previous director David Leitch; though Leitch does have an executive producer credit. He does as well as he did in the first one and it is very clear that he paid a lot of attention over the years on the films he worked as a Stuntman and coordinator on. The beats, the blocking, the shots were gorgeous. There is one in Rome, near a large bathtub that is one of the most gorgeous shots I have ever seen on screen. He and cinematographer Dan Lausten (Crimson Peak, Brotherhood of the Wolf), do some really amazing shots and made some otherwise risky shooting choices all of which paid off. Shooting in a mirror maze is difficult enough. Shooting with a moving camera in a mirror maze with moving panels must have been a nightmare. They did it.
My only complaint on the technical facet of the film is that there’s a bit of shaky cam on a handful of sequences; and overall most of the gunfights could have been shaved by a few seconds or beats. One in particular could have lost two minutes and we would have been ok. There’s a touch more CG enhancement to shots that really didn’t need it when a composite shot could have done better. That said, on the flip side – the practical in camera effects are just damn good. They are as visceral and brutal as you would think. Also – that bathtub sequence. I don’t want to know what it took to get that – but it was perfect. They really, as a pair, grasped when to use the different lenses and how to do different depths, angles, and movement with the cameras. There’s no shot I found off putting and they flow well to the credit of editor Evan Schiff (Pans Labrynth…huh thats two who worked with Del Toro).
So yes, the technicals are really solid here – a little more flawed but nothing game breaking or even really detrimental to the movie. I think I am more trying to show it can still be critiqued; because otherwise the stunts are FANTASTIC. This is a love letter to so many stunt performers over the year (including an intro shot with Buster Keaton on a wall). The stunts are not over the top. They are very human very real and require high degrees of skill.So much is done in the frame you can see the actors doing their work and the movie always benefits from it. They also give you time to breath, they let the plot breathe. They let you see the injuries without being gratuitous. They let fatigue set in.
From an acting perspective Keanu does a excellent job of showing John’s state both mentally and physically as the movie progresses. This man is 50+ years old and his own stunt work is just incredible. Ricardo Scamarcio (Burnt) does well as our antagonist. Ian McShane is still Ian McShane and we all love the movie a bit more for him end to end. Ruby Rose, as Ares, in her third performance this year does well with little. She does have weight and does well with it. I am unsure why they made one of the choices about her character – it didn’t hurt that it was made, but still wondering why. Common (Smokin’ Aces, Selma) continues to impress me with both his delivery of what he must and his action capabilities. Claudia Gerini (nothing stateside) is a stand out performance in the movie and for what time she had made an impact.
This is a very good sequel. Again I want the movers and shakers in L.A. to pay attention to the movie and learn the right lessons. You will be hard pressed in this genre (sorry Godfather fans) to find a sequel that is as good a follow up to it’s close ended predecessor. While it isn’t quite as good as the first, it is still bloody awesome.
Should you see it?
Do you like action? Gunplay? Keanu? The First movie? If the answer to any of these is Yes. Stop reading my review and go. Seriously…
Are you still reading? This movie is that good. Just go.
Will you buy it?
Without a doubt.
Yes, the music. The music was fantastic. I am trying to hunt down the soundtrack.