You sense the answer is going to fall solidly in the affirmative from the get-go. The action picks up almost immediately after the first film ended, with Wick attempting to brutally muscle back his beloved 1969 Boss Mustang. We’re plunged into a frantic, neon-lit car-chase that channels Diamonds Are Forever by way of Walter Hill’s The Driver. It’s a gloriously effective opening, particularly if your senses have been blunted by the unending, CG-enhanced car-foolery of the Fast and Furious series. If that’s the case, you need to watch this bludgeoning demonstration of the real thing on repeat until your brain eventually re-wires itself. Put The Blues Brothers on as well, while you’re about it.
Mission seemingly accomplished, Wick has hardly finished re-cementing his guns under the floor when he gets a visit from Italian crime boss Santino, played with exquisite slipperiness by Riccardo Scamarcio. You can’t go wrong with a name like that, can you? Turns out Wick owes this sharp-suited Mafiosi a rather big assassination-shaped favour - a promise indelibly sealed by an old blood oath between the two men. Never a good idea, blood oaths. And so it proves; in a wonderfully witty sequence, Wick reluctantly suits up and goes back to ‘work’ at the Continental Hotel, scruffy new hound dog by his side. In these deceptively genteel surroundings, he replenishes his armoury with an exquisite selection from the hotel’s gun ‘menu’ before embarking on a mission to sort out Santino’s family feud and to take down an army of hitmen hell-bent on ending his legend. Turns out that’s the easy bit.
Keeping the core creative team from the first film proves a wise move. The original’s gunfights and hand-to-hand throwdowns were astonishing, but returning director Chad Stahelski ups his game to ensure Wick delivers an even bigger blizzard of devastation on those who cross him. Meanwhile, script writer Derek Kolstad elegantly extends his original, neatly-framed revenge scenario across a much wider canvas. The more operatic scale is well and truly Toscared by the relocation to Rome for the requisite disco-gun apocalypse, this time mounted in the grounds and catacombs of a Roman Coliseum. This 007-flavoured middle act, with Wick spiralling down a mouse hole of impossible odds, may well be the best-directed and choreographed piece of action cinema you’ll witness all year. It also looks stunning; rarely has ultraviolence been this beautifully photographed.
Keanu Reeves is magnificent as Wick, that trademark hangdog charisma making evermore sense as he moves through middle-age. He gets great support from a rogue’s gallery of pitch-perfect friends and enemies led by Scamarcio and the returning Ian McShane as ‘hotel’ boss Winston. Has Ian McShane ever played anyone other than Ian McShane? Long may he continue to do so. The only slightly rusty cog in an otherwise ruthlessly well-oiled machine is the casting of Laurence Fishburne as a benevolent all-knowing guru who helps Neo, sorry, John out of a right old pickle once the action returns to New York. Talk about meta. When these two men first meet and eye each other with nudge-nudge familiarity, you fear the walls of their reality will suddenly collapse into a mass of green digits to reveal everything has been a gigantic Matrix in-joke, as opposed to the merely very big Matrix in-joke we actually get.
But we’re quibbling; here is a textbook sequel-done-right. Everything that worked the first time is honed, the scale has become epic and the ante is upped and upped again to a pulsating climax that’ll leave you wanting Chapter 3 by next Tuesday at the latest. With insane action, a script that packs a gut-punch of laughs and Wick himself just about the most haunted soul to pull a trigger this side of Harry Callahan, John Wick: Chapter 2 is one righteous MOFO of a movie.
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: CHAD STAHELSKI / SCREENPLAY: DEREK KOLSTAD / STARRING: RUBY ROSE, KEANU REEVES, BRIDGET MOYNAHAN, IAN MCSHANE, LAURENCE FISHBURNE / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 17TH
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10