Like a hollow-point, John Wick: Chapter 2 explodes with purpose. The signature soaring swoop of the cityscape opens the further adventures of the empathetic assassin. Just like Quantum of Solace, Chapter 2 begins shortly after the first installment. The puppy-slaying may have been avenged, but there's still the matter of the Ford Mustang. When the pre-credit sequence drops us off at street level, there's a stylistic flourish. Projected on the side of a building is a Buster-Keaton-esque motorcycle dash, before the very same bike and rider are put to a stop by John and his angrily roaring automobile. It's quick and it's loud, but most of all it's self knowing. If the meta convention of the projection were to continue, John would give a wink to the camera or a wry quip, a la Mr Bond. Even if this installment doesn't offer more of these flourishes, it's comforting that John Wick's fable has lost none of it's "focus, commitment and sheer will."
While John Wick: Chapter 2 may not be the Godfather 2 of action movies or offer the same evolution of The Bourne Supremacy, it's sheer determination to stick to the stylistic guns, set up in Chapter 1, is thrilling. The continuation may not have the same emotional engine that drove John's first sojourn - forced to honor a blood oath that helped his emancipation from "the life" - it certainly adds more layers to the assassin's mythos. The "Hey, John," and "You working again?" now gives way to a more serious cementing of the rules set by the Continental Hotel previously. It does still remember to have some fun in it's world building. The job that brings Wick back offers the international setting of Rome for the second act, and so unfolds a deadpan montage of tactical tailoring and a "Sommelier" dealing in arms rather than wine. It's just the right side of self-referential without self-back-patting.
World building and knowing quips are all very well and good, but John's particular brand of brutal badassery is the reason we put a second round in chamber. Thankfully, John Wick: Chapter 2 manages to dodge the bullet of sequel fatigue that most of Hollywood's follow ups seem to catch like it's fired by a sniper. Due to the sheer volume of set pieces here, there's going to be a few moments that miss the mark. As much gusto as Reeves and director Chad Stahelski put into each and every bout, there are some that wouldn't suffer from a cleave or perhaps execution. That being said, whether it be bullet fu or slickly designed knock-down-drag-out, it's a balletic wonder that manages to hold the hand of disbelief rather than suspend it. While the gallery set piece in the final act becomes a little gruelling, there's a great shoot-out in the catacombs of Rome and a joyously gripping moment where John and his pursuer take silenced-pistoled pot-shots in a busy tube station. It all makes for an inventive familiarity and still finds time to calm everything down in terms of pace and raise the stakes for sequel baiting.
Even if John Wick: Chapter 2 struggles with shifting the tone from dry to solemn and over indulges some sequences, it's worth the price of admission for the unwavering vision and commitment to be itself. If not, at least we finally get to see what John can really do with a pencil.
4* - The Wick Ultimatum