If you’re a fan of the stylized assassin world of John Wick, then you’ll leave the theater after watching the totally badass sequel wanting more. Screenwriter Derek Kolstad obviously wanted it that way. After setting the scene in the 2014 original, Kolstad and director Chad Stahelski expanded Wick’s world in the sequel to tee up a handful of new adventures. The second installment of Wick leaves off on a fairly dark note, but it was always meant to lead into what they hope would be Chapter 3.
Spoilers for John Wick: Chapter 2 from here on out
To Kolstad, parts of the proposed third chapter were in place before he and Stahelski made the sequel. “We had photos and concept art everywhere when we started pre-production in New York,” Kolstad said. This included everything from sketches of the titular antihero to the palatial Roman locales where he’d have to conduct his business. But before the team even decided on that, Stahelski went ahead and started making decisions for Chapter 3.
“The first thing Chad did was he tap a picture on the wall and said, ‘This is the first image of John in Chapter 3 if we do it.’” Kolstad said, He wouldn’t divulge what that image was, but judging by the cliffhanger ending of Chapter 2 it was probably an image of Wick on the run with a $14 million contract on his head — dead or alive.
More importantly, having ideas about a hypothetical third chapter that doesn’t exist gave Kolstad some breathing room. “We knew we’d be building up to that one image,” he said. “That image affected the development of Chapter 2 throughout, so Chapter 2 foreshadows a lot. We planted seeds in the John Wick movies and made nods to things that will come up again.”
That foreshadowing involves Wick’s retaliatory actions in the sequel, which built on the revenge plot from the original. Whereas the first movie’s violence was slick and elegant, the sequel takes a turn for the brutal. To Kolstad, that change will continue beyond the sequel’s ending. Now that Wick doesn’t have the assassin’s code to fall back on, or any of his trusted assassin allies, he’s forced to be a different kind of hitman.
The first movie sees Wick walking off a little worse for wear, but he gets revenge and a new dog companion too. The sequel ends in a much more bloodied and bruised place, with Wick and his pup — which Kolstad said was the embodiment of Wick’s “physical spiritual animal” — barely making it off screen. That downer ending was there from the early stages of development on Chapter 2.
“In the first movie we had the past and present John, and in Chapter 2 you have this new iteration of John. We found it to be so exciting to have him completely and utterly fucked in and outside of his world in the sequel,” Kolstad said.
The screenwriter set out to embrace different cinematic frameworks this time around to build on Wick’s world. It left space to write towards what would lie just beyond the final moments of Chapter 2.
“One of my favorite movies is Three Days of the Condor, and Chad [Stahelski] and I talked about how when you first see that movie you could think that the main character won in the end. But then you watch it again later and you realize he’s fucked. We hadn’t seen a move end like a 1970s political thriller in a while, and I think we did that.”
As for where Wick will go next, Kolstad isn’t getting specific just yet. It’s probably because he doesn’t have many specifics. “I have massive respect for writers like J.K. Rowling with Harry Potter or Stephen King with The Dark Tower who had their own full universes basically planned out,” he said. “But this is a studio movie franchise and we’ll do as many they want to do.”
“If you ask me, I’d love to do one of these every year for as long as they’d let me do them,” he said. And he’s not flying blind. He and Stahelski have an email chain stretching back hundreds of messages with snippets of ideas for the third chapter.
“Once you set up a world with so many rules, you have to turn the franchise on its ear so that John has to enter a world of chaos. We’ve tossed John into hell and we want to see him claw his way out,” Kolstad said. “Now we have to figure out how to do it.”
Photos via Lionsgate