Return of 'John Wick' delivers another violence-soaked ballet

One of the biggest unexpected surprises of 2014, “John Wick” was unabashedly over-the-top, serving as an action-career revival for Keanu Reeves.

It was notably directed by two longtime stunt performers, who delivered a film that doubled as the perfect showcase for stunt work elevated to art.

Reeves starred as Wick, a former hitman brought out of retirement, in part, by some baddies who killed his dog. It's hard to think of more righteous vengeance than that, and Wick dispensed it all over New York in a ballet of blood and bullets.

“Chapter 2” continues this adventure and takes it further up the chain of command. In an opening sequence that is a giddy reminder of all the violent fun of the first film, Wick battles his way to a reunion with his stolen car. The car doesn't escape unscathed, but it fares better than the dudes who stood between it and Wick.

Of course, his re-retirement is short-lived, and another crime boss (Riccardo Scamarcio) soon calls for payment on a blood oath that requires Wick to assassinate the bad guy's own sister.

Wick navigates the seedy underworld of an international crime syndicate, as well as the rules governing his network of secret assassins. And, duh, the body count spirals.

Director Chad Stahelski continues to engage in his unique style of “gun-fu,” mixing close-quarters, hand-to-hand combat with a lot of point-blank gunplay. There's an odd beauty to it all, like a John Woo movie that dispenses with the slo-mo.

But while I see the desire to top the original in every way possible, the sequel clocks in at around two hours — 20 minutes or so longer than the original. That's not to say it's boring, but some of the stylish set pieces linger at the expense of a pace that's best when it's so breakneck you can't catch your breath.

Reeves continues to impress as the cool, calculating Wick, turning up Daniel Craig's more brutal take on James Bond a notch. And he's got an intriguing supporting cast, including “Orange is the New Black” breakout Ruby Rose and a reunion with his “Matrix” co-star Laurence Fishburne.

The second chapter isn't quite as out-of-the-blue invigorating as the original, but I'm still primed for the next chapter — although I think a trilogy seems like the right time to cap this.