Although he tried to leave his former life behind, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is forced to honour a marker he made to Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) - an Italian crime boss who wants his sister murdered so that he may take her place at the High Table, the worldwide alliance of crime syndicates. However, Wick is soon double-crossed and has to fight his way out to survive...
What made the first John Wick so perfect was just how ruthless it was. It had a clean, tight narrative with not a single ounce of fat on it. The first time out, the raison d'etre was simple - John Wick's dog was killed, John Wick murders the people who killed his dog. End of story. No further analysis needed, no deeper meaning or allegory. While some might find that lack of depth disconcerting, it worked so well because there was ample action and style to fill out the screen.
Therefore, a sequel shouldn't work. After all, it's going against what made the first one so good - it's no longer lean, but rather expanding out and adding in more.
Going into John Wick: Chapter Two, you'd be forgiven for thinking that lightning couldn't strike twice - but it does. It absolutely does. The opening sequence sees Wick squaring off against a group of karate-fighting New York taxi drivers in brutal fashion. He returns home to find Italian crime kingpin Santino D'Antonio calling in a marker - a blood oath Wick made years ago to help him leave the life behind. Despite his better judgement, Wick agrees to honour the marker and sets off a chain of events that sees him hunted by a number of super-assassins, including Common and Ruby Rose. Yet again, that cleanliness of purpose and narrative is at work here. Wick is now being hunted. He has to kill those who double-crossed him. There's a price on his head. That's why people are trying to kill him.
Reeves' performance is all physical and the dialogue is terse in the way that only action films can be. If nothing needs to be said, silence is the answer. Instead, the incredible stunt work and action does all the talking for him. It isn't just Reeves going on a killstreak through a nightclub again, however. The action goes from full-on battles to one on one fights in a New York subway, icy tension paving the way towards them. The supporting cast has the same economic approach to dialogue, all except Laurence Fishburne who hams it up ever so slightly as the Bowery King, an all-seeing crime boss in New York who controls an army of homeless-presenting assassins.
That might sound utterly ridiculous when it's written down, but in John Wick's world, it makes complete sense.
Throughout the film, Reeves puts his body on the line repeatedly that calls to mind the likes of Chow-Yun Fat and Jackie Chan - and that comparison extends to director Chad Stohelski as well. His grasp of action is absolute, with near-perfect precision in terms of pacing, editing and narrative - just like John Woo's Hard-Boiled or Jackie Chan's Police Story. Like the first film, the slick cinematography marries with the honed craft. The film barrels along, only pausing briefly to catch its breath - but it never feels frenetic or chaotic. There's a purpose and while the violence might be excessive - he literally murders two people with a pencil - the film itself isn't.
Easily the best action film of the year and a sequel to rival the original.