John Wick was a sleeper success that surprised even the filmmaker and cast with audience response, and the second film generated plenty of buzz and even more fans deciding definitively to go see the cinematic release, having spent the intervening years discovering the film through DVD and TV viewings. What makes the John Wick 2 unique is that it really is a “Chapter 2” rather than a sequel, a film that follows on shortly after the events of the first, and seeks to simply expand the mythology of that world in a seamless way.
The expansion is significant. We learn that John Wick inhabits a world constructed of rules on an otherwise seemingly lawless international stage. If we though that a strange and very different world might be going on all around us after viewing the first John Wick film, we were even more likely to feel that way after viewing the second film, where a distinctly cavernous underworld is carved out for us, running, in its own way, like a well-oiled machine. And the machinations, rule-driven and rule-dependent, are what catches Wick up again in a world he constantly tries to leave.
As the trailer reveals, so no spoilers here, John Wick is drawn back into the criminal underworld after completing the revenge he set forth to enact in the first film, by the existence of a “mark”, a metal device that holds the evidence of a blood oath between two criminals. For services rendered, a mark may be called in, and the debtor has no choice but to complete the task to which he is then assigned. In this case, we learn that Wick’s terrible Faustian pact in sealing a blood oath had to do with his desperate determination to leave the underworld at an earlier stage of his life.
Tasked to fulfill this oath, Wick is pitted against friends and foes and undertakes a kind of Inferno-like descent through the realms of the underworld, with many surprises in store for him and for the audience alike. The secondary theme of the film is escalation–an escalation of all the qualities that you responded to in the first film–all of the aspects of film making that made John Wick initially stand out as a cult classic for fans. Those would include art design and direction which here becomes even more intricate and exacting, an economy of speech and timing, keeping the film moving like a bullet train, and of course the excellent fight scenes which comprise even more of the second film than the first.
The escalation also takes us into more worlds, more environments, and includes more characters. It’s an impressive opening out of the John Wick universe, which, of course, sets the stage for a third chapter on the way.
To speak more specifically about the home viewing experience, the digital version of John Wick 2 became available on May 23rd, 2017, and the hard copy purchase of the DVD + Blu-Ray combo pack arrives in shops June 13th from Lionsgate.
Both the digital version of the film and the Bluray disc of the film contain a very generous array of extra features, rather a piling on of extras that shows a particular consideration for fans of the films. Those extras include deleted scenes, featurettes that are very wide-ranging in subject, from multiple stunt videos to a “kill count”, exploration of weaponry, and full audio commentary from Keanu Reeves and director Chad Stehelski.
A stand-out for me is the feature “As Above, So Below: The Underworld of John Wick“, which really picks out the details and thinking behind the world building in the second film as an expansion on the first. Disarmingly honest is the feature “RetroWick: Exploring the Unexpected Success of John Wick“. So, in terms of the question that consumers ask themselves before buying on home viewing experience over another–is it worth the price–the answer is yes. The extra features are more than enough to sell the home viewing copy to you.
However, if you do not have the ability to watch John Wick 2 digitally, and if you do not have a Blu-Ray player, be advised that the special features available on the DVD copy in the combo pack are a little more limited. They are still worthy, just not as expansive. You’ll still get the audio commentary and the two features mentioned above.
But lastly–what about the quality of the actual film in home viewing? Having seen the film in the theater, and comparing those two experiences, I can say that watching John Wick 2 digitally has added to my appreciation of the film. It doesn’t feel like simply watching the film again, but rather watching it in a different format that picks out certain qualities and reminds us again what a carefully crafted film this is.
In smaller screen format, the colors and scene composition really shine. And that is clear in every single scene, not just some. You begin to notice framing devices more, and you certainly become aware of the total design in color and and lighting from the first few seconds of the film until its conclusion.
Comics fans have always liked John Wick because it has unusually comicky aspects, like screen text using different fonts and colors, and a very specifically paced out scene composition that really do feel like comic panels with page-turns. Watching John Wick 2 on home viewing will make those features even more apparent and, in short, you’ll love the film even more this time around. Also keep an eye out for the rather comics-evoking menu on the home viewing version.
It’s still advisable to watch John Wick 2 on a fairly large screen if you can manage it, but even if you are using smaller screens, there is still a great deal to appreciate about the film.
John Wick 2 is currently available in digital format, and arrives in Blu-Ray +DVD combo pack on June 13th.