JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 (9 out of 10) Directed by Chad Stahelski; Written by Derek Kolstad; Starring Keanu ReevesRiccardo Scamarcio, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Ruby Rose, and Ian McShane; Rated R for "strong violence throughout, some language and brief nudity; Running time 122 minutes; In wide release February 10

Sequels walk a very fine line. Pay too much homage to the original, and everyone will wonder why even bother in the first place, but stray too far from the source material, and you end up with something so dissimilar that it feels like a completely different beast all together. Considering how interesting and fun the first John Wick was, it goes without saying that expectations were high for the second chapter. Happily, they were met and exceeded as this is the rare sequel that is just as good as the first one.

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) was supposed to have left the bloody world of murderers for hire for good, but he was dragged back into it to seek vengeance upon the men who had wronged him. This draws the attention of crime lord Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) who holds the blood oath Wick made that he would never kill again. D’Antonio makes him an offer he literally can’t refuse – pull off one final, impossible hit, and Wick will be released from his oath. With no choice in the matter, Wick heads off to Rome and begins a downward spiral through the depths of the assassin’s underworld to reclaim his life. Of course, nothing could be so simple, and once the job is finished, Wick finds himself hunted across the world by his fellow assassins hoping to cash in on the multi-million dollar bounty on his head while simultaneously tracking down D’Antonio to get his own revenge.

While the first John Wick laid a solid foundation of the assassin’s world, Chapter Two takes this and builds layers upon layers on it. Wherever he goes, Wick is constantly running into people and businesses who are willing to help (or hinder) him by simply passing over a special gold coin to them. Much how a tailor wasn’t really a tailor in Kingsmen, nothing here is as it seems. Asking to speak to the sommelier will grant access to an arms dealer who will be happy to provide Wick a “tasting” and set him up for his mission. Oh, and that tailor? Yeah, he’ll make him a suit and then line it with flexible body armor that will stop bullets. No one is who they seem to be. That beggar on the street will take his gold coin and blow off the heads of the rival assassins after Wick. This whole secret world that is hiding out in front of everyone feels nuanced and rich and is a supporting character in and of itself.

As crazy and violent as the first movie was, this one amps it up to 11. Fight scenes are brutal, beautifully shot and normally end with someone’s brains splattered against the wall. Director Chad Stahelski eschews the typical action movie standard of playing fast and heavy with the camera and refuses to make a bunch of quick cuts during fight scenes. Instead he lingers on for a few seconds longer than we are used to which makes the action more intense while segueing between set pieces.

The most surprising thing is that this is being released in February, normally one of the most abysmal, movie dumping grounds of the year. It’s fantastic and could easily hold its own among the summer tentpole films, but maybe the studio is hoping that it will make a bigger splash in a traditionally smaller pond. Whatever the case, this is the best thing to come out this year, and will easily stand out as one of the best of 2017. Its worldbuilding and expanding on the mythology nearly gives it a leg up over the original and makes me long for the third movie that this one nicely sets up before the credits roll. Make sure to give this the love it deserves.

9 out of 10

Previous Post: 'Fifty Shades Darker' Review

Next Post: 14 Geeky Romances to Watch for Valentine's Day -- No Matter Your Relationship Status

Tags: john wick , ruby rose , keanu reeves , assassins