John Wick

Owen Dorau, Jack Forrester, Baron of Bad News, Grand Tsar of Disclosure

In slavic folklore, Baba Yaga is the boogeyman; to the characters in John Wick chapters one and two, John Wick is the boogeyman. We start the first film grieving with John Wick, a man with a dark and mysterious past, about his wife’s death. We know little about his history, but we do know that his wife was the only hope he had of escaping his past. John’s wife passes away from cancer just days before the film begins. To John’s surprise, she gets him a dog just before she passes away, “An opportunity to grieve unalone” as John Wick later says. Later that day, Russian gangsters spot John’s car. Assuming that he is just a nobody, they foolishly decide to steal his car, and kill his dog in the process.

Our introduction to John Wick’s past is a visceral one. The Russian gangsters believed that they had pulled off nothing more than a simple robbery, ignorant to the fact that they had single-handedly plunged John Wick back into a world he so deeply wanted to escape from. With nothing left but a desire for revenge, John dedicates himself to finding and killing the men that wronged him, even if that means taking down the entire Russian mafia in the process.

What follows is an hour and a half of action packed cinematography that follows John Wick on his quest for vengeance. As the plot continues to unfold, we learn that the Russian mob is actually part of an underground society of hit men that operates around the world. John himself was once a member of this society before he met his wife, which does well to explain his extensive combat skills. The depth of John’s history is only really hinted at in the first chapter, but plays a much more pivotal role in the second.

John Wick is not your average action movie. Instead of trying to force feed the viewer another cliche story line where the charming protagonist manages to save the world all while still making time for the ladies, John Wick follows a vengeful man with deeply personal goals that are rooted in tragedy. The plot is profoundly straightforward, and John Wick himself has very few lines of dialogue for a protagonist. In many ways, John Wick’s actions speak much louder than his words. This gives a surprisingly realistic sense of sincerity to John’s motivations, showing that he does not have time to deliver cool one liners in his quest for revenge.

The attention to detail and unique filming direction under directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch are matched by very few other movies in the genre. Unlike most action movies, John Wick is filmed extremely up close and personal. The shots are hand to hand, and the scenes don’t hold back. On top of this, most of the camera work is handheld. This method of film making provides the viewer with an intimate and face to face experience as they follow John through eight minute action sequences and gripping fight scenes.

In movie storytelling, John is what you call an “Antihero”; he’s fighting for the right cause, but lacks the ethical limitations. The fact that we would never take the same actions as John distances us from his character, but at the same time we understand his motives and empathize with what he has gone through, and so we continue to root for him throughout the film. The perspective we have as the viewer, both towards the character and the literal camera angles, is what makes the John Wick franchise so captivating.

On top of this, screenwriter Derek Kolstad and the directors place each of the major sequences in their own unique settings. The most prominent action scenes include John’s house, a poolroom, a nightclub and a shipping yard. Every one of these scenes is made entirely unique by each location having a different color palette, providing brutal, yet beautiful fight scenes. This technique is used in the second film as well as the third. “The lighting is what stands out for me” Ben Gibbs said when we caught up with him after school. “The nightclub scene gets me every time”.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the John Wick films, is the fact that the second installment took everything good about the first one, and just made it better. We can only assume the third one will follow this trend and solidify itself as one of the best action movies of the 20th century.

Catch John Wick Chapter 3, Parabellum in theaters May 17th, 2019.