‘John Wick: Chapter Two’ is pure joy

Grade: A-

Verdict: “John Wick: Chapter Two” has all the wild knifing and stabbing of the first film, plus another dog!

This sequel is, in a word, awesome. Fans of the first will be more than pleased, as will those who haven’t seen the first but need some bloody assassin action in their lives.

True to its titular promise, “Chapter Two” picks up where the first movie left off. Still wigging out over the death of his wife and having just finished offing the guys who stole his car and killed his dog. Super assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is visited by his old acquaintance Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), who forces him back on another killing spree, thanks to a blood oath Wick made years back.

The rest is pretty much non-stop blood splatter, and it’s pretty frickin’ amazing. Director Chad Stahelski and cinematographer Dan Laustsen make a great duo when it comes to shooting fights, abiding by the all-important (but often forgotten) rule that the action is best when we can actually see what’s happening. Hollywood likes to skimp on choreography in favor of uninteresting tight framing, shaky cam and fast cutting to give us the impression of action, which is way lamer than watching some well-trained badasses lunge at eachother in frames that give them room to move. Keanu Reeves, it turns out, is one such badass, and Stahelski and Laustsen make sure to show off his and the rest of the amazing cast’s fighting skills. This makes the fight scenes super effective, interesting to watch and easy to follow.

This is John Wick we’re talking about, so the deaths are bloody and wonderfully creative. To whit, that story from Chapter One about Wick killing some guys with a pencil comes back– let your imagination run wild for a second and you’ll know whether or not you’ll like this movie.

Reeves somehow feels like the perfect vessel to deliver all this blood. I’ve never rejoiced in his glory like I have watching him dominate as Wick, with his blank face bathed in neon colors as he breaks necks and severs arteries. As an actor he’s not great with his face, which actually works for him when he’s in action mode and needs to look sad or angry or determined (these are all emotions that we can easily project onto that perpetually stern gaze). It’s hot and effective, so I’m totally on board.

As for plot, it’s perfectly whatever. It functions to move the action forward and keeps the stakes nice and high– Wick’s always on the brink of death– and D’Antonio’s intentions are clear. I guess it’d be predictable if you were thinking hard about it, but if you’re just there to brag that you can understand basic narrative structure, you’re missing what’s great about the “John Wick” movies: the narrative is the bones on which the cool fighting rests, and these bones are unshakably simple and unobtrusive. So hooray for simplicity!.

“John Wick: Chapter Two” is a fabulously crafted action flick that’ll get your adrenaline pumping. You should most definitely see it and experience Keanu Reeves shoving knives into people. It’s one of the purest pleasures there is.