The film didn't do crazy business at the box office, but it had strong weekly holds which indicated positive word of mouth, and it was Lionsgate's third best-selling title of all time on home video (directly behind a Hunger Games movie). The growing reaction was palpable enough to inspire faith in a sequel.
And this is where it gets tricky, because "John Wick: Chapter 2" looked like a sure-fire dud on paper. Often times movies of this ilk have trouble replicating the successes of their predecessors - opting for a rushed "been there, done that" routine - but director Chad Stahelski and co. have wisely built upon some of the mythology inherent in the original film and found a way to make it work, expanding the universe in a way that feels organic. The movie's budget is twice as much as the original's, and yet it's still a fraction of most Marvel blockbusters ($40 mil as per trade reports), and so in tone it feels more grand and sleek without necessarily feeling bloated or carefree. (You'll notice there's very, very little CGI employed in the film.) This is one of those rare, beloved action films - much like the original - where you can see every punch thrown, every kick delivered, without the camera cutting so incessantly that it's unintelligible mayhem. There's a fluidity and art to the carnage here that is quite impressive.
A few qualms: I think the story of the first film, as a revenge picture, works much better. It also put us more firmly on John Wick's side, justifying his murders. This man is, after all, a legendary hit-man -- but the first movie showed Wick post-transformation, as we are led to believe that his departed wife helped rescue him from a sinister lifestyle and brought him resolution. The reason he goes on a killing rampage is because a few thugs beat him and kill his dog. The original movie was a revenge flick, and audiences love revenge - enough so that we're willing to ignore the fact that Wick killed fairly innocent henchmen in the process of exacting his retribution.
The only serious problem I had with "Chapter 2" is that Wick is brought back to the hit-man game (albeit reluctantly) and ends up quite brutally murdering well over 100 people in the process. Yes, these scenes are beautifully choreographed and at times darkly funny. I enjoyed them -- and yet it disturbed me a bit at times to think that these nameless henchmen being massacred by Wick are essentially just doing their jobs, and the scenes are framed in such a way as to suggest they deserve their brutal slaughters. Does it say more about me, as a person, that I'm OK with Wick killing people as revenge for his dog? Perhaps. But it was a bit of an issue I had with the movie, which is that it's much easier to root for the hero's killing when he's on a revenge mission versus just fulfilling a job requirement.
The other issue I had is that the film lost a bit of the original's idiosyncratic flair (e.g. the aforementioned Marilyn Manson tunes, and the kind of grungy Gothic vibe -- all that kind of early 2000s throwback stuff is gone, and the movie feels more modern and polished).
These are fairly minor qualms. Whatever the movie lost in terms of its soundtrack or tone, or its questionable murder scenes, it certainly made up for in its expansion of the Wickiverse (can we call it that?), with the Continental - briefly glimpsed in the first film - really evolving and becoming a main point of the sequel. They are doing very interesting things with this aspect of the storyline, and the movie ends in such a way as to suggest that Wick's story is far from finished.
Count me in for opening day of "John Wick: Chapter 3."