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The sequel to one of the great recent action movies is coming to theaters this Friday. Based on the early reviews, the sequel is going to bring more of everything that we loved in the original. However, the fact remains that, somehow, there are a lot of people that still have never seen John Wick. You've still got a couple of days to fix this grievous error. For the love all that's holy people, go see John Wick right now.
I say this from a place of love, because I was like you once. I saw an action movie starring Keanu Reeves was coming out and I dismissed it out of hand. When was the last time one of those was really great? I figured I'd catch it on Netflix at some point, probably when I wanted to watch a bad movie on purpose.
I certainly wasn't the only one. John Wick only grossed a little over $40 million at the North American box office and while the movie was relatively cheap to make, and thus still turned a tidy profit, $40 million is the box office equivalent of peanuts. Let's Be Cops made more than twice that the same year. For fuck's sake, Let's Be Cops!
I, like so many others, didn't catch John Wick until later. It wasn't until a friend of mine watched it online and told me that I had to see it that I finally took the plunge and introduced myself to John Wick.
Even if you haven't seen it, you probably know the setup. John Wick pisses off the son of the Russian mob boss, mostly just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The kid decides to visit John's house, roughs him up, steals his car, and kills his dog. There are two reasons this was a bad idea. The first, is that the dog is the final gift given to John by his wife before she died from a drawn out illness. The other reason is that John Wick is the greatest professional hitman in the world, and he just came out of retirement.
John Wick is quite simply one of the greatest action movies ever made. It's not too surprising that a lot of people don't know this. The film is an original creation. It's not based on a comic book and it's not a remake of a previous movie. This meant there was no audience connection to it before it hit theaters. It also starred Keanu Reeves, and while Reeves has shown himself perfectly capable as an action lead, his endeavors prior to John Wick like 47 Ronin and The Day The Earth Stood Still did little to turn heads. If you actually saw Wick in the theaters it was probably because it looked like a fun enough action movie, even if there wasn't very much else going on.
Except that what else is going on is exactly why John Wick isn't just a fun movie, but a great one. The movie wasn't written to be the beginning of a "cinematic universe" except that it succeeds in creating in one film what it took Marvel half a decade to properly design. There is a universe inside John Wick, no doubt. There's an entire world of organized crime existing within the movie. They have their own hotels and their own nightclubs and they even have their own currency with their own economy. The movie doesn't spend any time explaining any of it, instead, the audience is expected to be smart enough to understand what's going on simply by watching. We see each interaction play out and we can instantly see a million similar interactions occurring elsewhere in this world. If John Wick had actually taken the time to explain all the details the movie would have ended up being limited by it all. Instead, the depth of this world is limited only by the imagination of the audience.
The old storytelling adage is "show, don't tell." John Wick shows you when it's time to break that rule. The movie builds up the main character by telling you that he's the world's most deadly hitman, but it's the way it tells you that allows it to work.
Part of why John Wick feels so fresh is that it turns the standard action movie "one man against the world" idea on its head. Most of the time this done by having "the world" attempt to take down our hero for some reason. But in this case John Wick is one doing the attacking. It's almost like watching a horror movie, except this time the psychotic killer in the hockey mask is the film's actual hero.
Now, let's talk about the action of John Wick. It's essentially perfect. While most films to have given themselves completely over to Bourne-esque "shaky-cam" or endless cuts and extreme closeups. John Wick is a throwback in the way that it shows action. There's a reason that fight scenes require choreography and the way that John Wick shoots it lets the audience appreciate that. By being able to watch the wonderfully filmed action we can really see John Wick look like the epic badass that the film tells us that he is.
John Wick doesn't need a sequel. Having said that, it has created a world in which a sequel can easily exist and it's just the kind of movie that fans WANT to see a sequel for. Do yourself a favor and rent John Wick this week, then check out John Wick Chapter 2 this weekend. Make a night of it. And don't forget to make a dinner reservation. You'll get that joke after you see the movie.