Are you familiar with the phrase, “The sequels are just never as good as the original”? Well, to that, you should remember something: There’s always at least one exception to the rule. This neo-noir actioner was released over Valentine’s Day weekend in 2017. While it faced tough competition against The Lego Batman Movie and (unfortunately) Fifty Shades Darker, it still managed to gross over $171 million, more than twice that of its predecessor. Although David Leitch ultimately ducked out to do Deadpool 2 and Atomic Blonde, former stuntman Chad Stahelski returns to direct this follow-up to the surprise hit of 2014, in a year full of surprise hits. Set only a few days after the events of the original, Wick is contacted by an old acquaintance after hearing of his recent exploits. Bound by a blood oath, he is forced to infiltrate and take out high-ranking members of an international assassins’ guild. His push out of retirement forces him to travel from New York to Rome and embarks on a journey that is best left unspoiled. The primary reason I held off on watching this picture for a while is that I hadn’t yet seen the first one. I’m the kind of person who likes to watch the original before the new one comes out, regardless if there’s any continuity. And in the case these movies, it’s especially important to watch the first one in order to gain a better understanding of the world built here. It jumps right in from the first scene- an exciting car chase through the streets of Manhattan -and never lets up. And from there, not only is Chapter 2 arguably better than the first movie, it’s perhaps the best action movie of 2017. And we’re knee deep in a year full of great ones. Keanu Reeves returns as the titular badass and hasn’t lost an ounce of his charm. One of the most likable movie stars on the planet, the fact that he is still making successful action movies at the age of 52 is really impressive. He also loves performing his own stunts, apparently getting himself into some hectic situations with the filming process. While John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, and Bridget Moynahan reprise their small but crucial roles, there’s a bevy of new characters- specifically villains -worth getting to know. Riccardo Scarmacio is our main antagonist and is pretty despicable. The task he gives Wick is difficult enough, but an action he takes later makes us love to hate him. Ruby Rose is his mute but efficient henchman while rapper Common is a bodyguard with a particular grudge against the main hero. Laurence Fishbourne shows up for about 15 minutes worth of screen time in his first collaboration with Reeves since The Matrix trilogy. Although he isn’t around much, his character is pretty interesting and makes for a nice change of pace with the dialogue. It’s clear that this film had a bigger budget than last time, given all of the lavish locations and glorious set pieces. Whereas last time it felt as though they blew most of their budget on the Red Circle Night Club scene, they had enough money to make as many extravagant sequences as they pleased. This film’s big standout was an escape sequence in the catacombs beneath a colosseum. My jaw was practically on the floor when it happened, and it may be- along with the car chase through the pass in Mad Max: Fury Road -the coolest action scene I’ve witnessed this decade. There’s another scene later on when John Wick is fighting these two hitmen who are after him and kills both of them with a pencil. With a FREAKING PENCIL! As if that story Viggo told us in the last movie wasn’t enough. The film already earned its R rating way early on with plenty of F-bombs and bloody action, but that scene cemented it. The film looks and sounds gorgeous, too. The many corridors provide an interesting backdrop for the action, drenching the characters in dark shadows and echoing footsteps. A film with this kind of gunplay is bound to have great audio, and it is really amazing. You can hear everything from the bullets whizzing by our hero’s head to the grunts from bullet wounds or hand-to-hand wounds. The color pallet is slightly differentiated from last time, but for the most part, it’s still a contrast between red and blue. And of course, the best part about the original John Wick wasn’t even the action scenes, but instead the inventive world-building. The credited screenwriter for this franchise thus far is Derek Kolstad, and he should get more name recognition for films like this. In the first one, he crafted a unique environment with enormous potential for a franchise, waiting for more interest to arise. Thankfully, he allowed this world to blossom in the sequel as we witness assassins not only all over New York City but everywhere in the world. All of the assassins, no matter what region they’re in, know who you are and the things you’ve done. This assassins’ guild, The High Table, may be the thing holding everything together, and there’s so much unexplained history worth exploring. You discover that the Continental Hotel reaches overseas, you see that their society is insistent on honoring codes, regardless of how bad they may be. It’s rare for action movies to build such a cool world while giving us some brilliant action scenes. Although a little less emotionally involving than the first one, John Wick Chapter 2 features incredible gunplay, intriguing world-building, and a badass hero staged at the center. Clocking in at just over 2 hours, it doesn’t ever feel like it drags on or rushes too fast. In short, it does what every sequel should do: doubling down on what the first one great and running with. So much awesomeness to watch over and over.