John Wick: Chapter 2 takes the veiled surrealism of its predecessor and drags it down the street in a muscle car at full speed. Where Keanu Reeves’ first outing as the titular Wick flirted with the idea of a lavish society of killers and their ilk hiding in plain sight in the greater New York area, Chapter 2 fully commits and goes global.
In an age where action films are so often synonymous with superheroics, it can be easy to forget that the kind of in-depth world building that has come to define John Wick is not a staple of the action genre as a whole. The depth of mythology in previous shoot-em-up franchises is often limited to giving a dead antagonist a vengeful relative, or giving the protagonist a grizzled dad. Chapter 2, again written by Derek Kolstad, kicks off with a set piece that immediately discards the aforementioned notion of the vengeful sequel sibling, just as the initial action sequence in the original film discards the Bourne shaky cam.
John Wick is not science fiction or fantasy, but it is a franchise that lets its imagination loose. There are clandestine societies with intricate bureaucracies and hierarchies. There are fascinating artifacts, remnants of secret histories we are only given passing allusions to. It’s a lavish world, spritzed with the surrealism required for all of it to go on just under the noses of an unsuspecting public. John Wick: Chapter 2 is like the opening crawl to a Star Wars prequel, written in headshots and murder.
The action genre is broad enough to encompass and outlive cowboys and detectives, body-builders and superheroes, evolving along the way as sub-genres come and go. John Wick: Chapter 2 might just prove to be the perfect example of what the genre has picked up from the interconnected superheroism of the day.