The conclusion to John Wick chapter two was one of the few sequel bait endings that actually left me excited to see the next instalment. Unfortunately, I still don’t feel as if I have really seen the next chapter as so little actual development takes place in this film with characters more or less back where they started and the whole thing feeling like a colossal waste of time. It was entertaining but while the previous entry built on the first film, raised the stakes and progressed its universe, this felt like more of the same and didn’t add much new. I feel as if this was just two hours of build up to the next movie.
The film picks up immediately after the events of the last film with John excommunicated from his assassin’s Club and with a bounty on his head. The first third of the film is by far my favourite part, he’s hung out to dry and it feels like a slicker, more brutal version of The Warriors as he tries to make it out of New York with everyone after him. The next part is set in Morocco and is also mostly good, it introduces Halle Berry and her team of attack dogs but also begins the uncomfortable racial aspect to the film with many of the anonymous villains so heavily racially codified. The last third is back in New York and like the previous two thirds features some fun set pieces but builds to an anticlimactic non-ending. As the film drew to a close I knew that the real ending would come as either another movie entirely or a further forty minutes of this movie, and I wasn’t going to be happy about either.
The film worked the best for me when it embraced the idea that this isn’t really action, it’s just unusually brutal slapstick. Many scenes in the first half are very funny, featuring just the right level of self awareness and speed to really work. The highlight was definitely the way that elements like the dogs and the horses were incorporated into the fights, the best action scenes each had their own fun, fast-paced gimmick and didn’t take themselves too seriously. Unfortunately that breezy exuberance dies away and the action scenes get longer and longer and became instead a less impressive version of the kind of set pieces you see commonly in Asian martial arts movies like The Villainess or The Raid movies.
As underwritten as all the characters are, the performers still get a lot out of their roles and a big selling point is just how much fun they appear to be having. Ironically, by trying to make the film more story focused, with twists and reveals, the story here ends up a lot weaker than in the second and lacks that film’s punchy ending. As pure action with a knowing edge it still works well, but it’s not as good as the second.