When John Wick hit theaters in 2014, it became the type of sleeper hit that film studios pray for every time they green light a mid-budget movie. Critics walked out of media screenings ready to knock out reviews praising the movie for its originality; audience members during the first few weeks told family, friends, coworkers, and anyone else that would listen that they needed to go see this Keanu Reeves flick today; and Lionsgate kept their fingers crossed that the buzz would last long enough to warrant green lighting a sequel to the new would-be franchise that fell into their lap.
The problems with John Wick: Chapter 2 are in some respects many of the same problems that befell another franchise’s sophomore outing this past October. Everyone involved in the making of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back listened to what fans said they liked about the first film and doubled down on those aspects of the character for the second film. What audiences ended up getting was a Tom Cruise character that was no longer just the smartest guy in the room but the smartest man to ever enlist with the United States military; an all-business love interest to replace the playful one found in the original film; and a teenage sidekick, because when are those ever not delightful?
So with Chapter 2, where can a well intentioned team of filmmakers go wrong? By doubling down on everything that audiences loved in the first, to the point where watching the top of a guy’s skull burst from a Wick gunshot elicits no reaction, because by the halfway point of the film it feels like we’ve seen a variation of this same kill two dozen times. As well as never-ending gunfights through a crowd of dancing partygoers; videogame-like battles that end in would-be “boss” villains; and a female henchwoman that seems to always be lurking just around the corner.
When Chapter 2 opens, we immediately sense a degree of deja vu. Reeves’ Wick decimates an unlucky chop shop that has obtained his stolen car, barely limping when he enters the owner’s office despite being hit by cars multiple times (another sign of doubling down, as in the original it only took one vehicular hit to knock him out), and the pair salute his return to the retired life. This opening scene is only there to serve two things: remind audiences that Wick is seen as the Jason Voorhees of the underworld, and to plunge the viewer into the violence awaiting them.
Wick has barely returned home, new pit bull companion in tow, when he is visited by an Italian mobster (Riccardo Scamarcio) with a job offer. When Wick left his life of crime behind, he did so with the knowledge that he would owe this gentleman a favor one day; the day has arrived, in the form of a request to dispatch the mobster’s sister. Wick refuses, his house is blown up, and we’re back in action.
What isn’t back is any of the humor, whether physical or of the dark variety, that was present in the original film. The ballet of bullets that kept viewers on the edges of their seats the first go round is largely missing as well, replaced with shootouts that feel like reruns; even the greatest 4th of July fireworks display begins to feel monotonous when stretched to two hours.
Strangely, and sadly, enough is that perhaps the franchise that John Wick now begins to resemble is the one most synonymous with Reeves in The Matrix. Just as the second chapter in that trilogy made everything innovative in the original a little more boring, a little more staid, we leave John Wick: Chapter 2 with a sense of deja vu that we’ve seen this movie before. And like that earlier role for Reeves, we liked it better the first time around, and may not show up for the next chapter.