Action movies are a dime a dozen. Tons of them come out each year, many of them not even seeing a theatrical release and instead heading straight to the Internet and...Redbox, I guess? The point is, action cinema is a genre that hasn't needed a resurgence since its birth; as it advances with the production techniques and technology that made it possible in the first place — because if you think about it, action cinema is particularly dependent on technological developments and modernized production techniques — it continues to stay relevant vis-a-vis its ability to dazzle audiences.
Mad Max: Fury Road simply couldn't have been made at the time that Mad Max: Road Warrior was made, as both films fully utilize the technical capabilities of their day to tell their stories to the fullest degree. Both films, though, are seminal entries in the action cinema pantheon. Most relevant to this conversation, Mad Max: Fury Road sets itself apart from the rest of its action movie brethren by being a movie that ties its action directly into the arc of both its characters and its narrative. This can be something of a rare find, because action cinema is one of the genres that is content to function on spectacle alone, and is often successful in doing so. Hell, as long as an action movie doesn't have a totally abysmal story, audiences usually aren't complaining, especially when the action itself is innovative and engaging.
Films that can work on both levels are a cut above their peers, though, and John Wick: Chapter 2 is absolutely one such film. The first entry in what is shaping up to be the John Wick trilogy was heavy on incredible action, without needing too badly to dive into subtext or character work. What John Wick accomplished was enough for its audience, which is why it's exciting to see the sequel take things a bit further in terms of both character development and subtext. The action helps us trace Wick's arc throughout the story, his violence becoming more and more unnecessarily brutal as he disappears into a role he seems forever destined to play.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is less a battle for the title character's soul in the way the first entry was, and more an exploration of that soul and why it will potentially (hell, probably) never know redemption or peace. The film is positively brimming with Classical-era imagery, fascinated with angels and demons and the scenes those figures tend to occupy. John Wick's physical trajectory through the film can even be easily read as a literal descent into hell, as the action follows him from Rome (arguably one of the world's holiest cities) to New York (often considered one of the world's preeminent ditches of inequity).
Characters frequently remark that John Wick clearly wants to be doing what he's doing, despite his increasingly surface-level protests. As expected, Wick lets out an anguished cry when he is "forced" to suit up again for the "last" time, but that brief moment of consternation is all we get before Wick settles into his familiar role as a relatively unstoppable killing machine, his fists, legs, and guns all working in tandem to fuck up the shit of as many dudes as possible. And once again, watching John Wick just mow everyone down is the most enjoyable aspect of this film, much of which is owed to the incredible photography of DP Dan Laustsen. Like its predecessor, John Wick: Chapter 2 is an absolute visual delight, with small flourishes like the LED strips stuck to light poles and stop signs in its opening moments, bathing New York in a constant soft glow that throbs right along with John Wick's once-righteous sense of anger.
When it comes to action cinema, few films hit their marks the way John Wick: Chapter 2 does. I know I made the Fury Road comparison earlier on, but the two films share something deep within their DNA. Much like the most recent Mad Max entry, John Wick: Chapter 2 is a relatively pared-down journey into one character's personal hell, which (fortunately for us) actually seems like it's exactly where John Wick might belong.