Our loner assassin finds himself embroiled in yet another feud, but somehow there's less bang for your buck, writes Tim Robey
The excellent John Wick resurrected Keanu Reeves, the rain-soaked B-movie, and everything in its cross-hairs, basically, except for the poor pup whose casual slaughter sent the title character over the edge.
A sequel is entirely welcome, and Chapter 2 does its job entirely ably, without exactly doing much overtime.
It takes after Wick himself, a loner assassin in a world that often seems to be populated purely by said breed, in not giving itself over to any large gestures. The story? It barely inches forward.
There's a new villain, an Italian mobster called Santino, played by a disappointingly robotic Riccardo Scamarcio, who hires Wick to kill his sister.
Wick refuses. Santino blows his house to smithereens with a grenade launcher. And so another feud gets off the ground, with the price on Wick's head soon ballooning to lottery-win proportions.
All the snappiest parts of the film are the bits where Wick can hardly move for the fellow hitmen crawling all over him. Whatever day jobs this secret society may be pursuing, their phones ping with bounty updates, and the game is on.
But the rules remain clear: when inside the Continental Hotel — the killers' boutique hotel owned by Winston (Ian McShane) — not a drop of blood is to be spilt.
McShane remains a dry joy in this role, and Lance Reddick, whose plosive consonants are practically gunshots in themselves, gets more to do this time as Charon, the Continental's disquieting receptionist. But the new additions to the Wick universe are a mixed bag.
Full marks to Peter Serafinowicz, who has one hilarious scene as a kind of suits-you-sir Savile Row arms dealer. And there's a strong showing from Common, who tries to take Wick down in a highly entertaining mid-film struggle with a witty, winking punchline.
Scamarcio, though, is a pale imitation of Michael Nyqvist's original nemesis, and his mute goon Ares (Ruby Rose), despite having her moments, isn't quite the Famke-Janssen-in-GoldenEye hoot she might have been.
A draggy lull arrives when Wick, running out of safe-houses, checks in with a big cheese called the Bowery King, who keeps birds up on a rooftop, surely knows Forest Whitaker's character from Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, and has a whopping arsenal at his disposal.
It's one of those hour-into-the-film, guest-star cameos that a complacent Laurence Fishburne should cede to a cash-strapped contemporary once in a while: he's not great company on this occasion.
WATCH the movie trailer for John Wick: Chapter 2
Thankfully, through all the script's uneven chicanes, returning director Chad Stahelski — Brandon Lee's stunt double after his fatal accident on the Crow set — fulfils the action end of the deal with wicked muscle and flair. A car chase at the beginning is an eye-popping explosion of neons on wet tarmac, as abstractly exhilarating as the best of Bourne.
And the hall-of-mirrors showdown, inside a contemporary video-art show, gives you loads to look at even when the personnel involved are a tad second-rate. Chapter 2 anticipates a Chapter 3 so nakedly it can't help but feel like transitional Wick, but no one's likely to feel short-changed. Sometimes, as denizens of this world well understand, you just get exactly what you pay for. —The Daily Telegraph, London
• 'John Wick: Chapter 2' is in cinemas
The expressive art of Keanu Reeves
HAPPY: "What a fine specimen I am"
GUILTY: "Priest just walked in and I drank all the wine"
ANGRY: "Uber driver drove too damned slowly"
HUNGRY: "Think I'll throw a steak on the barbeque"