The John Wick series would have been right at home in the now-deceased video rental store, alongside the heavenly works of ’80s action stars Ah-nuld, Bruno and Sly. Outside of a handful of outliers, today’s action movies have failed to launch the same larger-than-life stars, while feeling totally derivative of those forebears and the various video-game genres they birthed. But in 2014, John Wick arrived and showed that the classic action movie was not dead yet.
In his first appearance, retired assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves, a perfect emotionless killing machine à la Jason Voorhees) was recovering from the death of his wife, thanks to a sweet little puppy named Daisy. After the ruthless murder of that puppy and the theft of his beloved Mustang, John went back to work, to the detriment of any bad guy standing in his way.
When the second film opens, John is still searching for his sweet ride. He finds it, after massacring the army of a Russian gangster (Peter Stormare) unlucky enough to be related to the guy who killed Daisy. Stormare’s opening monologue about the Boogeyman (John Wick really is just a classic slasher) resets the table that John is about to utterly demolish. And for two hours, this mythical assassin does just that: He. Kills. Everybody. It really is terrific.
John Wick and its sequel work better than any other recent action movie at emulating the success of their predecessors without feeling like a tired retread. (The Crank movies had similar success on a smaller scale.) Director Chad Stahelski has crafted both movies like the visuals matter. Much of the action may simply be John Wick shooting people in the chest and head, but the way it is shot is refreshing. The sequel might even be just a smidge more visually ambitious, too.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is the rare video-game movie I would rather watch than play, thanks to the incredible world-building of writer Derek Kolstad. This world of assassins—bound by rules and creative flourishes like the sommelier (Shaun of the Dead’s Peter Serafinowicz) who proffers the right weapon for every course, or the old-fashioned switchboard, manned by what appear to be Suicide Girls, that handles all incoming contracts—is way more fascinating than the one depicted in the recent Assassin’s Creed movie.
John Wick was the best straight-up action movie in decades. Chapter 2 may be even better. It certainly does no damage to the Boogeyman’s reputation. I could go on and on with praise of this ridiculous movie that will certainly not appeal to everyone. However, if you have ever lamented the lack of modern-day “Commandos,” you know what movie you need to see soon.