SPOILER WARNING: John Wick: Chapter 2 (Chad Stahelski, 2017)
John Wick cannot control his fate in John Wick: Chapter 2 (Chad Stahelski, 2017). Unlike the original 2014 film in which John was provoked, but not forced into any of his actions, the sequel sees him losing control of his fate entirely. But this loss of control is not as simple as the debt “Marker” that he owes to Santino D’Antonio, as the events that occur can also be attributed to other factors that John has created himself. As the film progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that John is no longer completely in control of anything, even his own actions. This is not to say that he is blameless for the actions that he perpetuates or the other events going on around him, but rather, that his prior actions have led him to a point where he may no longer have the freedom to control anything that happens to him. In the end, this is the fault of John, but he is far from the only factor that has contributed to this outcome. The film does not leave him in this state of helplessness though, as John is still an effective force by way of his actions and because of this he is able to affect his fate to a great, but perhaps uncertain, degree.
As the film begins, John is still very much alive in the sense that defined him in John Wick (Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, 2014). He is still working towards regaining the domestic life that he believes he can return to. The seemingly final step in this process is the retaking of the car that was stolen from him in the inciting incident of the first film. However, after he takes back his car, it becomes clear that this is more symbolic for him than anything else. Once John learns that he is being forced to return to the life that he believes that he can leave behind, he is enraged, but also saddened. But John’s rage does not come to its full fruition until after the man whom he owes a debt to burns his house to the ground. His perceived domestic life in ashes, John returns to his old life to do the only thing he truly knows how to do.
It can be argued that John’s rage is misplaced though. While it is understandable that he would be enraged towards anyone whom is forcing his hand, his rage towards his lost domestic life is misplaced if not completely fruitless. John harbors rage over the death of his wife, but there is not any direction for him to point that rage. No one took the life of the one person that John loved, nature and circumstance did. And because of this, he cannot process his feelings on her death. As quoted my multiple characters in both films, he is a man of “focus,” “commitment,” and “sheer will.” But none of these traits, all of which exhibits throughout the films, necessarily mean that he can healthily process the grief that he is dealing with. John is correct in the first film when he says that the death of his dog was also the death of his grieving process and his hope. In effect, his hope and chance for a life of peace has died, and just like he cannot fully accept the death of his wife, John also cannot accept his coming fate.
John’s forced return into his old life begins his descent into Hell. Even though the Bowery King may dub John’s departure form his domain as the beginning of this descent, in truth it started once he began Santino’s debt-obligated job. From that point on, John rarely physically moves upward at all. The film instead highlights his many descents down many different flights of stairs as he moves deeper and deeper into his personal Hell. The deeper he goes, the more foes he must face and the more dangerous his world becomes. Beginning in the catacombs in Rome, John soon departs from this realm of the physically dead to one that is much less straightforward. Beyond this point he faces many demons of his own creation, brought on by a lifetime of the sins he has committed. Once he reaches the museum display that is said to offer reflections of the soul, John is surrounded by nothing but fire. He has entered Hell, and now he is fighting through its levels.
However, John is not ever completely out of control of his fate. Evidenced by his killing of Santino on Continental grounds, he still can make decisions that will affect his fate both positively and negatively. By killing Santino, John damns himself beyond what any other person could do. This new level of Hell that he places himself in is one not of his own pure creation, but it is one that only he could permit himself to enter. However, by killing Santino and being excommunicated as a result, John places himself in a new and uncharted position. He is no longer a part of the world he has sought to leave, but at the same time he is still facing the full strength of it in the worst possible way. At the same time, domestic life is now farther away from John than it ever has been before and there is not a clear path for this life to be obtained, if there ever was one in the first place. But in the end, after he has reached his lowest point in the film with his meeting with Winston, John does managed to begin his journey upwards. Leaving the lowest circle of Hell, where he has met the Devil himself, John climbs the stairs he has just descended to begin the nest stage of his life. This new level is still Hell though, as he must contend with the fear and paranoia that comes with the knowledge that anyone and everyone could be against him. John Wick: Chapter 2 concludes with its protagonist in Hell, but he has already begun to attempt his journey out of it.
The film does not go so far to say that John will never escape from the life that he has put himself in. Unlike the first film, where John brought the consequences of his life upon himself, the second film sees him grappling with the effects of others pulling the strings. While John does place himself in some of the situations in the second film, the driving force that led to the events of the film are not completely of his doing. In the end though, John knowingly excommunicates himself and in doing so he does manage to leave behind a part of the life that he had longed to leave. But even though he has left a part of his life, he has created a new one for himself, one that is of his own forging. Though these decisions mean that John’s hope for a life of peace is gone, this life had never existed anywhere outside of his own mind. John is a man of many things, but peace is not one of them. Though he may have believed that he could someday return to the life that his wife and he shared, his decision to go down the path of excommunication indicates that he has accepted the impossibility of being at peace. Instead, John now faces anyone and everyone in his fight for his life. Like the “impossible task” that he completed in order to start his domestic life, he now faces another task in order to live at all. John may be unable to kill what killed his wife, but by way of his actions he has made a world for himself where his problems can be solved by doing the one thing that he knows how to do best.