The original John Wick was the story of a heartbroken man with a borderline supernatural talent for killing people. He was trying to avoid using those skills, until a fool steals his car and shoots his puppy.
The next hour and change where Keanu Reeves, as John Wick, shoots about 80 people in the face... well, it's justified.
They killed his puppy.
But the revenge was had, the villains killed, the story ended.
And then, it became a hit. (On to Wick 2, after the break!)
Okay, here there be spoilers.
So we open with a spectacular action scene -- John Wick has come to collect his car (violently) and wrap up the last loose end from the first film.
He even makes peace with the Russians.
He's out again! He has a new dog (who is never given a name) and he's back to a quiet retirement.
...Until a marker is called in by an old acquaintance (Santino D'antonio, played by Riccardo Scamarcio) and Wick has no choice but to return to his killing ways to pay his debt off.
This marker sets up a domino run of bad decisions and bad situations, each of them seen coming by the players in the story, who are likewise unable to avoid them.
John prevails through insane odds, but his victories only serve to stack the odds against him even higher.
D'antonio wants his sister (played by Claudia Gerini) dead so as to assume his family's underworld power. After her death (in a unique scene) D'antonio is, of course, honor bound to avenge her death.
He places a bounty on Wick's head, sending the underworld of assassins after him -- all of them nearly as deadly as he is.
D'antonio's taunts throughout the film ensure that the one thing the audience wants to see by the end is Wick putting this guy down.
And we get that! (Not with the Chekhov's Pencil as teased in the first sequence, but don't worry, they don't let that slide by.)
The problem with the villain's death, especially the location of it, is that it drops Wick down to rock bottom. With that death, he loses his professional standing, access to his resources, his home, his car, his photos of his wife -- there are no safe havens left for John Wick by the time the credits roll.
And every assassin in the world -- not just New York -- is now after his head.
John has exactly four things left to his name:
A marker -- something that entitles him to a can't refuse favor, the very thing that put him in this position.
...And a one hour head start to flee New York before the assassins begin their hunt.
Those are a lot of spoilers! I tell you some of the big beats, but the enjoyment in John Wick is what he does (kills lotsa people) but how he does it (occasionally with a pencil.)
And the action is clever (occasionally repetitive, but always effective.)
The world of assassins that Wick moves in is fleshed out a bit more. More of the safe haven hotels, their suppliers, the codes of conduct -- we see how much Wick makes use of and relies on these things for his Italian mission, and realize that, going forward, he has none of this... but everyone chasing him does.
This makes (the hopefully inevitable) John Wick Chapter 3 a massive underdog story.
And it makes this one feel a lot like like The Empire Strikes Back.
There's an ending, but there is no denouement. If there were no further adventures of this bogeyman, it might be a sour note. An open choice: does Wick survive, or fall? The pieces are there for either path... but we're left in a dark and pessimistic place.
Does a man like this get a happy ending? Does he deserve one?
Something that interested me in the (quiet) assassination scene of Gianna D'antonio: Wick is asked point blank if he fears damnation.
Does the ending represent the final descent, or the first step on the path to true redemption? And what form will the redemption take? Who says that's something Wick will survive?
I hope for and expect a sequel, and with luck it won't include the 2-3 year gap separating Chapter 1 from Chapter 2.
Like I said, it'll be an underdog story... but I can think of nothing more appropriate.