John Wick: Chapter 2 is a high-octane ballet of unfinished business
John Wick’s universe looks like ours, yet exists just beyond it, a liminal place between reality and pulp fantasy, full of color and violence. A shadowy underworld where John’s story plays out like a blood-soaked ballet. Buster Keaton introduces this world to us for a second time in John Wick: Chapter 2. The motorcycle chase from Sherlock Jr. is projected on the side of a skyscraper, and the sounds from John Wick’s own motorcycle chase syncs with it perfectly. Peter Stormare’s Abram Tarasov tells the story of the first movie’s events to his consigliere (Wass Stevens): Abram’s nephew Iosef killed John Wick’s dog and stole his car. His 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429 is in Abram’s warehouse, and John Wick is coming.
In John Wick: Chapter 2, John has unfinished business. He hunts a motorcyclist through the streets in his 1970 Chevy Chevelle—director Chad Stahelski compared the Chevelle to a big shark, the motorcyclist to a little fish. The moment the motorcyclist thinks he’s eluded Wick, he crashes into the Chevelle full force, and Wick retrieves a warehouse keycard from the rider’s jacket. The film cuts to Tarasov’s warehouse where men scramble to pack up contraband in taxi cabs: drugs, cash, coins, gold bullion. But they’re not fast enough. John Wick arrives. Although the cars in the warehouse are covered, he knows the silhouette of his Mustang and finds it immediately.
John Wick is death’s very emissary, lo spettro, the ghost. An unstoppable force. A man of focus, commitment, and sheer will. John Wick’s Mustang is an extension of the character, both hammer and scalpel: it moves with precision and grace, but strikes with brutal force. In what might be the best car stunt in this scene, he jump-drifts out of the warehouse into the rain. It was also the scene’s most difficult stunt: the opening in the warehouse is narrow, barely the length of the Mustang, and the stunt driver had to avoid clipping the car on either side and try not to hit the camera car just outside the warehouse. The jump shot took seven or eight takes, and destroyed one of their Mustangs. (The production team used two Mustangs for John Wick and neither was harmed, but they had five on hand for John Wick: Chapter 2–and all of them were destroyed.) When the crew finally got the shot, second-unit director Darrin Prescott said it was like they “won the Super Bowl.”
For some reason, henchmen in taxis and cars are hell-bent on stopping John Wick from leaving with his Mustang. Abram is wise enough not to bother. “So we’re giving up everything for a car?” Abram’s consigliere asks. Abram responds, “It’s not just a car. It’s John Wick’s car.” John hits one henchman car so hard that its driver flies out onto his Mustang’s windshield. The driver manages to hobble away, only to have John artfully pull a Rockford-style J-turn into him, punting the man into a steel column. John’s Mustang is immediately hit by yet another taxi, and the impact sends John hurtling face-first onto the pavement. Car-fu segues into kung fu for a breathtaking brawl at the warehouse’s center.
Two different motorcyclists eat it during Chapter 2’s opening: one who crashes into Wick’s Chevelle, the other who gets door-slammed when Wick’s back in his Mustang. Production replaced stuntmen with dummies mounted to the bikes. For the second stunt, they attached a cannon to the motorcycle, and when the bike reaches Wick’s car door, the stunt crew ignited the cannon’s charge, flipping the bike forward. Stunt driver Joe Dryden explained, “They put a dummy on the bike, and they towed the dummy into the door, and then they did layer that with a bit of CGI,” to add some natural, lifelike movement to the dummy. Though they briefly considered doing the stunt for real, they decided this was a better, safer option.
The demolition-derby opening scene sustains the urgency of the first film, and the movie provides some of the most exhilarating car action of the past few decades. Stahelski said it took three months to choreograph the opening sequence, which Prescott described as a “car gang bang.” For part of this scene, stunt driver Robert Nagle steered and operated the car from its roof, but they did allow Reeves to ram the Mustang into other cars. He hit one car so hard that he tore off the steering wheel. Reeves received stunt-driving training for the first film, but he learned more moves for the second film, like a reverse 180-degree turn. Prescott called Reeves “one of the best actor-drivers in the business.”
John Wick: Chapter 2 balances its brutality with humor, leaning into the slapstick of action’s roots—silent film—with its nods to Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Car chases originated in silent comedies, like Keaton’s The General. A scoreless scene where Cassian (Common) and John Wick roll-fight down a flight of stairs is reminiscent of Chaplin falling down the stairs in One A.M. One of the film’s posters, which depicts John surrounded by guns, is an homage to Harold Lloyd’s Two-Gun Gussie. Chad Stahelski told Slash Film that the Sherlock Jr. introduction was a signal to the audience that John Wick is not a “reality-based action movie.” He explained his approach to the film’s beginning: “It’s a little wacky, so let’s start with some wacky aerials. We’ll come down, and as a little nod to our established audience, we want everybody to know that we’re making fun of ourselves. We’re gonna start with Buster Keaton.” John Wick: Chapter 2 functions like a silent film, pure visual storytelling that would be just as expressive without dialogue.
If Buster Keaton is the grandfather of action films, then Bruce Lee is the genre’s father, and the spirit of Bruce Lee lives in John Wick: Chapter 2. His influence is evident in the way Stahelski and David Leitch choreograph and shoot all their films, in their long takes, wide frames, and smooth editing. But it’s most obvious in Chapter 2’s mirror set piece, the Reflections of the Soul museum exhibit, which evokes Enter the Dragon’s climactic scene (as well as The Lady from Shanghai and Chaplin’s The Circus). Stahelski explained to The Verge: “[The mirror-room fight] is one of the first ideas I wrote down. Didn’t even have a story yet, but I just went, ‘Yeah we’re going to re-do Enter the Dragon. We’re going to do Bruce Lee and Mr. Han in the mirror room.’ That’s where it all came from.”
A voiceover inside the Reflections of the Soul installation tells us, “We hope through this exhibit we can provide new insights into your understanding of the world, and just possibly lead you to deeper reflection into the nature of self.” This artist’s statement applies to Chapter 2 itself, a sequel that feels more reflective and introspective than the first film. This saga asks whether John will be punished for and cursed by his crimes, or if he can change and be redeemed. The underworld is like quicksand: the more John Wick struggles against it, the more it drags him back down. But he hasn’t lost hope yet. “Can a man like you know peace?” Abram asks him. John wonders, “Why not?”
This is John Wick’s identity crisis, his duality: a legendary assassin who discovered he had a soul. John Wick is obsessed with reflections — Stahelski claimed they did about 39 scenes with reflections in the first movie, and the motif continues in Chapter 2. We are always looking at two Johns, the man and the myth. In an interview with GQ, Reeves said: “[John Wick]’s got this beautiful, tragic conundrum—these two selves. The John who was married, and John Wick, the assassin. John wants to be free. But the only way he knows how is through John Wick. And John Wick keeps fucking killing people and breaking rules. We’re really watching a person fight for their life and their soul.”