Since this is now Chapter Two, I’ll refer to the original as Chapter One
John Wick is a mustang of people. As a film and character, Wick returns as a blunt powerhouse of methodical style. Mustang and Wick alike, Keanu’s vehicle has serious longevity, it’s the ultimate display of endurance and gratification. John Wick: Chapter 2 is a bombastic machine of destruction – needless to say, I loved it.
I’d define Wick’s fighting style as ‘dirty pragmatism’. During fights, his environmental awareness incomparable. Chapter One wasn’t as varied in location type, he constantly fought indoors, which is understandable – the cost to perform stunts outdoors is much more expensive – but Chapter 2 does not have these limitations. However, a lack of limitation has cost them their innovation. An amazing moment in Chapter One came from blasting music over the top of gunshots to muffle the silencer even further amidst a crowd of trance induced dancers. Chapter Two takes the gusto approach – he shoots a bodyguard live on stage and the crowd cheers as they think it’s part of the show. We don’t get that innovative slickness this time around.
As Wick’s world grows grander, its destructibility increases accordingly. Now more than ever, Wick must remain sharply witted. We revel in John’s destructive rampage through the world of his history. But first, we must pay the price of some dry, lengthy exposition. Once the exposition finishes, you’ll be intoxicated, but, as the third, likely, installment will expand upon the second, this is probably an amalgamation of exposition designed to simultaneously set up Chapter Two and Three – while a reprieve from the exposition (or it being more cost effective) would’ve felt more forgiving, in retrospect, I realise that my detachment was momentary as I now appreciate how the exposition serves to transition from the previous into itself and to the consequent film (Chapter Three). After all is said and done, the film does an excellent job of delivering most of the exposition through action and interaction.
I, after basking in the visual delights of Chapter One, couldn’t wait to see the return of Stahelski’s vibrant colour palette. And so, while Chapter Two packs more colours, it discouragingly uses them too sparingly throughout (until the final 30 minutes). Sublime bursts of intense orange and blue temperatures immerse us entirely, but, since they change so rarely, the withheld variety between the changes and plot beats comes at such a stretch that our eyes settle comfortably, they become accustomed, and a scene can turn increasingly stale the longer it lasts. The excellent Red Circle scene was a masterful display of how changing the colour scheme benefits our attention and defines the narrative’s flow. The icy caves and heated rave were awash with temperature and according tensions – their temperatures don’t solely serve our spatial awareness, but remains to do it so excellently. The artificial blues contrast the firefight’s flame, stark light pushes outbound. Outside, the oranges breed heat and hostility, it’s sweaty hue bleeds into Wick’s silhouette.
Alfred Hitchcock said, (to paraphrase) when they shot film in black and white, the actors needed lighting to stand out from the background but colour does that naturally. If we had John Wick, the black suited man, in a dark cave without blues or in an open area, as he’s the centre focus amidst the chaos, without oranges we wouldn’t see shit. Sure, the colour isn’t as pragmatic as in the original, but every decision regarding the colour comes with appropriate consideration regarding audience engagement and comprehension.
That said, and as gorgeous as it is, the colour bleed isn’t quite the awe-inspiring experience that we got in Macbeth (2015) or even Spectre (2016). On the other side, some of the visual black strokes that Chapter One captured so beautifully are sadly missing – they occasionally appear, but far too infrequently: the cave scene, the car shop and the return home – a minute 3ish scenes total. Ultimately, Two does make a strong attempt to balance Wick’s new style with the old – and, although compromised, Chapter Two joyously opens the colour pallette to farther reaches, it shoots appropriately and you can feel the cinematography make leaps in progression. The supplementary set pieces are outstanding, and adjustments are to be taken with a grain of salt because the titillating gains vastly outweigh the negatives of losing tonal emulsifiers.
The final set piece is awesome in nearly every way and thusly feels majorly contrived. This is a problematic gratification, depending on how you’re swayed. If John Wick’s naturalism and practicality was your thing, it’s somewhat lost here. If you’re into incredible environment set pieces and dangerous entanglements, this is a spoonful of sugar. Considering that you’re probably willing to allow Wick to murder 60-70 people over a dog, and have him be thrown unprotected to a floor beneath and hit full pelt by cars and endless bullets, I think you’re unlikely to kick up too much fuss when he has a shootout in a hall of mirrors. After a while, the room feels a little hostile to the audience, there’s nothing much to a room of mirrors besides a whole lot of mirrors, so, needless to say, not a whole lot changes in regards to its scenery through the 10 minute runtime. Thankfully, Stahelski’s choreography and direction give the characters enough of a stage to perform on. Each character works with a different method and approach, the environment’s versatile design grants John just enough imaginative freedom to survive each stage, there’s plenty of innovation, not in the room, but in the inhabitants of the environment – and, to boot, it’s epic as fuck.
John Wick: Chapter Two is fairly circular, it begins by projecting stunt classic Safety Last (1923) onto the side of a building as a car chase roars through the city and a post-crash motorbike screeches down the road, then, at the end, a showdown in the hall of mirrors, a scene lifted exactly from The Lady From Shanghai (1947). Elsewhere, this is an overdone trope, but here there’s enough adaptation, innovation and raw assault in how they execute the trope that it transcends to an entirely new emphatic playground of its own. The film is ripe with unsung tributes and they’re all gratefully accepted.
A round of applause John Wick: Chapter Two. You took risks, you challenged yourself, you gave me more, you set yourself apart, you hit harder and went deeper, and most importantly you did it – you made a shockingly fantastic sequel, and that’s a rare prize to find nowadays.