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The legendary hit man, John Wick (Keanu Reeves), is forced out of retirement again by a former associate plotting to seize control of a shadowy international assassins’ guild. Bound by a blood oath to help him, John travels to Rome, where he squares off against some of the world’s deadliest killers. (From Lionsgate’s official synopsis)
 
 John Wick: Volume 2
Chad Stahelski & David Leitch’s John Wick was a pleasant surprise that threatened to breathe life into Hollywood’s middle-budget action tradition with a shot of simple, straight-forward action. The filmmakers left the door open for a sequel, but we certainly didn’t need one. Good thing that they made one anyway, because John Wick: Volume 2 – which is solo-directed by Stahelski, while his friend, Leitch, takes the reins on Atomic Blonde (2017) and the as-yet untitled Deadpool sequel – is a needlessly long introductory sequence away from being a perfect movie. We tend to talk about modern, mainstream movie sequels in pretty limited terms. Those that aren’t produced as part of a planned series (i.e. The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter franchises) are wrangled into three analogue categories: those sequels that subvert light-hearted expectations with indomitable odds are compared to Irvin Kershner’s The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and those that up the ante with more of the same antics are compared to James Cameron’s Aliens (1986). Putting aside the fact that such categories oversimplify the efforts of both Kershner and Cameron’s films, the shorthand does work in the case of simple storytelling. What’s fun about John Wick: Chapter 2 is that, in an effort to maintain a very specific formula, it manages to be both the Empire Strikes Back and Aliens of its own burgeoning franchise by expanding the scope, increasing the odds against the character, making his future appear bleak, and, of course, intensifying the ferocity of the action.
 
This sequel is, undoubtedly, a more complicated film that its predecessor. However, unlike sequels that convolute a larger story with plot twists or other narrative devices, Stahelski and returning screenwriter Derek Kolstad don’t dare mess with the purity of their title character’s motivations or stick him in a convoluted, plot-heavy situation. Instead, they opt to delve more deeply into the strange mythology surrounding Wick. Sure, the escalation in action spectacle is expected and it’s the main reason people will enjoy John Wick: Chapter 2, but those of us that really enjoyed what the first film was doing in the peripherals of the carnage also had about two hours worth of in-universe logistical clarification to look forward to. In this regard, John Wick: Chapter 2 is practically a science fiction movie and, like the best sci-fi, its audience can savour the incidental details, like a zealous lawyer relishing the fine print of a contract. What would otherwise be boring daily occurrences in the real world become fascinating what-if scenarios. How does the economy of the Wickverse work? Is the assassin’s network a strictly underground system or does it operate in plain view? Are there extra forms to fill out at the DMV? A box to check on an employment form? Do assassins pay taxes?

I guess I’ll have to wait for the third movie to find out.
 
 John Wick: Volume 2
In addition to being outrageously entertaining, John Wick: Volume 2 is an outrageously attractive movie. Given the simple story, visual precision is important, as the first film proved with its tight action, clear geography, and cool neon look. The filmmakers certainly could’ve rested on those laurels, especially since they’ve put just as much – if not more – care into the structure and shape of the action sequences. If only its big-budget superhero franchise cousins had an ounce of its rigor. However similar the two films are, Volume 2 does make strides to set itself apart visually from its predecessor, even as it adheres to the basic visual formulas. The key distinctions begin with its more eclectic visual nature, which changes depending on the location and what the scene means emotionally to the title character. Keanu Reeves’ performance is about as confident as I’ve ever seen from the actor, but this character requires him to internalize almost everything, so the palette and lighting scheme help to punch up the drama. The other major difference is that the middle section forgoes the electro-neon look that so far defines the series in favour of an eerie gothic aesthetic that would be right at home in a period-set horror movie. The impossibly complicated mirror room climax is the show-stopper, but these gothy sequences are the most promising in terms of future growth for the franchise under Stahelski’s supervision.
 
 John Wick: Volume 2

Video


John Wick: Volume 2 was, like its predecessor, shot using Arri Alexa digital cameras. As I mentioned in the feature section, Stahelski and new cinematographer Dan Laustsen (he replaced John Wick’s Jonathan Sela, who followed David Leitch onto Atomic Blonde) acknowledge the first film’s digital-friendly compositions, while also pushing the format to its limit with eclectic colour palettes, shadow play, and focus, depending on the location and emotional needs. This leads to a blend of hyper-vibrant highlights, eclectic warm/cool mixes, and subdued, almost monochromatic shots. Throughout the palette changes, black levels remain deep and pure, but not too crushy. Detail is super tight without any objectionable over-sharpening effects and textures are beautifully controlled to the point that smooth and rough images can coincide. Elemental separation is tidy and the smoothed gradations exhibit only slight digital noise (all of which was likely inherent in the original footage).
 

Audio


John Wick: Volume 2 is presented in Dolby Atmos, though this review will prefer to the core Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track. As per usual, I’m not entirely satisfied with the center channel vocal volume, but I’m more or less convinced at this point that this is an unavoidable thing that happens during the Atmos-to-TrueHD conversion on my system. Besides being ‘forced’ to crank the system a little too high between action scenes, I have no complaints about this super-dynamic mix. Just as each set-piece has its own palette, they also tend to have their own aural patterns. Car chases throb as engines rev and vehicles crunch into one another, gunshots demonstrate separate personalities in the midst of busy shootouts, and the surround channels are engaged perfectly, even during the tight little smacks of comparatively small-scale fist-fights. Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard’s electronic, drum, and guitar-based score has a slightly generic tone and lacks memorable themes, but certainly gets the job done with driving beats and techno motifs.
 
 John Wick: Volume 2

Extras


  • Commentary with Keanu Reeves and director Chad Stahelski – This is an extremely low-key (both participants are practically whispering) track is occasionally entertaining in parts, but there is a lot of repetition, mumbling, and plain old silence between factoids.
  • Three deleted/extended scenes (8:05, HD)
  • RetroWick: Exploring the Unexpected Success of John Wick (4:34, HD) – The cast & crew talk about the first film’s cult status and surprise popularity.
  • Training John Wick (12:00, HD) – Concerning the stunt choreography and Reeves’ training regiment.
  • WICK-vizzed (5:13, HD) – Footage from the stunt team’s promo tapes and other pre-visualization videos, along with introductions to the major stunt players.
  • Friends, Confidantes: The Keanu/Chad Partnership (9:54, HD) – A look at the actor’s relationship with his long-time stunt double, director Chad Stahelski.
  • As Above, So Below: The Underworld of John Wick (5:06, HD) – An exploration of the ins & outs of the Wickverse.
  • Car Fu Ride-Along (4:44, HD) – On the various car stunt coordination and filming crashes in the middle of New York City.
  • Chamber Deck: Evolution of a Fight Scene (10:08, HD) – The cast & crew break down their planning processes, from choreography, to camera pre-vis, and filming.
  • Wick’s Toolbox (8:14, HD) – A prop weaponry and martial arts featurette that further describes the advantages of the guns, knives, and hand-to-hand techniques used throughout the movie.
  • A Museum Tour with Sir Jonathan Wick (2:11, HD) – A brief look at the museum art pieces that appear throughout the film.
  • Kill Count (3:09, HD) – A recap of every one of Wick’s kills in this movie (the final count is 116, by the way).
  • Dog Wick parody trailer (1:37, HD)
  • Trailer and trailers for other Lionsgate releases

 
 John Wick: Volume 2

Overall


John Wick: Volume 2 is so much fun and so precisely constructed that it makes me second guess my aversion to unnecessary sequels and Common as a tough guy actor (he’s somehow believable here!). Amongst the chaos, it even manages to convey genuine emotional expression that extend its character beyond the more streamlined original. This Blu-ray sports a stunning HD transfer and aggressive Dolby Atmos mix, as well as some decent behind-the-scenes featurettes.
 
 John Wick: Volume 2

 John Wick: Volume 2
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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