John Wick 2 Pulled Off The Impossible For One Of Its Best Action Scenes

You really need to set the scene for a great action film. The glowing metal foundry from the end of "Terminator 2," the shiny marble lobby from "The Matrix," or the dingy high rise from "The Raid;" the environment is part of your detailed memory of the film. The same is true of all three "John Wick," which trade heavily on cool environments and colorful aesthetics.

Keanu Reeves has been playing the greatest hitman of all time since 2014's "John Wick", where the man called Baba Yaga tried to leave that life behind only for random criminals to kill his puppy. Since then, John Wick has killed a ton of folks in a lot of locations. He's put bullets into the skulls of several random guards in a blue nightclub with red highlights or a red rave with blue highlights. Color choices and contrast are key, people!

One of the most memorable action scenes in the franchise came in "John Wick: Chapter 2." Cast mostly in a single color, the climax of the film takes place in a hall of mirrors. There, Wick has to puzzle out the difference between the guards of rich idiot Santino D'Antonio and their reflections in various mirrors. He does this handily, as John Wick does murder like Twitter spreads hyperbolic nonsense, with great speed and nary a thought. But it looked cool! And yes, it was as hard to film as it looked.

Enter the mirrors

Pulling off a hall of mirrors is logistically a nightmare on film, though. You need to ensure that the camera crew isn't in the shot, while also finding clear, readable action for the audience. It was very difficult back in 1973, when "Enter The Dragon" set its final conflict in a hall of mirrors. And that film directly inspired the same scene in "John Wick: Chapter 2".

"[The mirror-room fight] is one of the first ideas I wrote down," director Chad Stahelski told The Verge. "Didn't even have a story yet, but I just went, 'Yeah we're going to re-do 'Enter the Dragon.' We're going to do Bruce Lee and Mr. Han in the mirror room.' That's where it all came from. So, I was like, 'How can I make a mirror room better?'"

Stahelski said the money folks behind the film tried to get him to go in another direction. Such a shoot would've eaten into the budget and been logistically difficult to pull off. Stahelski countered that the production of "John Wick" film is never about doing things the easy way.

"It's like when you tell them you want to do a scene in the rain," he added. "Everybody tries to talk you out of it, because it's more expensive, it's slower, everyone's miserable. It's like, 'No, I think I want to do it.' Why do it the easy way, right? That's not the John Wick way."

It's all a reflection on the film

Stahelski sat down with his cinematographer, Dan Laustsen, and his stunt team to work out the set and how the camera was going to make its way through the scene. "I had pulled up everything from fun house mirrors to exhibitions to live art in parks, and we pull up every kind of reflection gag we could think of," he explained. "If you look in 'John Wick,' I think we did something like 39 scenes with reflections. Every scene opens with a reflection, whether it's in a mirror or in a puddle."

Stahelski said the blocking alone took around three months. Stunt coordinator J.J. Perry, via The Verge, said the stunt team worked for about a week and a half with the final environment. They were trying to figure out where the reflections would be coming from, and how to ensure the crew wouldn't be seen on camera. And when the crew would be seen regardless, they had to make it easy for visual effects artists to remove them. The director said:

"I'd say it was a 60 / 40 split [between practical and digital effects]. We did as much as I believe was humanly possible [in-camera]. We used old-school tricks of putting people [in a spot, and] moving mirrors behind other mirrors to refract that; people hiding under black. I mean, as much practical as you could, from back in the day, where Orson Welles did it in 'Lady from Shanghai.' We stole ideas from [director] Robert Clouse in 'Enter the Dragon,' all the way up to modern-day VFX, like Zack Snyder did in 'Sucker Punch,' or in 'Contact.' We searched every little gag we could, and pretty much emptied the bag and invented some of our own."

The final scene in the film is a stunner. The combination of the lights, the mirrors, and the actors' reflections adds up to a fantastic set-piece, one that pulls you into the film even while you're wondering, "How did they do that?" Sadly, John only sends seven souls to meet their maker during this excellent fight. That's only a tiny fraction of the 299 folks who have shuffled off this mortal coil with Wick as their concierge.