How John Wick became an accidental action franchise

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

John Wick: Chapter 2
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3.5 out of 5

The John Wick phenomenon is weird. Keanu Reeves’ action flicks used to be a dime-a-dozen, with diminishing budgets and, more often than not, quick trips to DVD. But Reeves’ new and oddly beloved saga is a lot cannier than it lets on. Here’s a breakdown:

  1. THE MYTHOLOGY WORKS Whether by accident or design (I lean toward the former), the creative team stumbled into a fun premise: a society of assassins bound by rules. At the center of it all, The Continental, a hotel (a chain, we later discover) where no business is to be conducted. John Wick 2 builds on that: there are contracts to be honored, support teams and shadow government bodies. But it’s being courteous that may help you stay alive.
  2. THE SEQUEL FLIPS THE FORMULA If in the first chapter Wick was the hunter, now he’s the prey. Double-crossed by a powerful gangster, John goes on the lam, his head worth several million dollars. Instead of disposable henchmen, serious pros are out to get him. A lot of them.
  3. THE DIRECTOR IS A FORMER STUNTMAN Never mind that Keanu Reeves is pushing 52. The action sequences are continuous and, for the most part, unique. That thing Liam Neeson does in four beats, Keanu does in one. Credit director Chad Stahelski, once Reeves’ stunt double, who understands how to make a scene fun. Michael Bay, take note.
  4. IT DOESN’T TAKE ITSELF VERY SERIOUSLY I mean, this is a movie about a parallel criminal society in which killing someone’s dog is an act of war. It doesn’t go for laughs but it does let them emerge organically from the ridiculous situation.
  5. THE CAST GROWS, FOR THE BETTER There are a lot of casualties in a John Wick movie (76 in the first). The replacements are not only recognizable, but bring their own sauce to the mix: Laurence Fishburne (Matrix reunion!), Common and Franco Nero adjust their screen personas to the Wick milieu to great effect.
  6. JOHN WICK IS THE BOOGEYMAN People lose their minds when they find out John Wick is after them. It never gets old.