There’s more to the three John Wick films than action.
Influenced by classic revenge films like Death Wish and The Outlaw Josie Wales, screenwriter Derek Kolstad crafted Scorn, the script that would eventually become John Wick.
At the time, Kolstad was best known for the direct to video feature One in the Chamber, featuring Dolph Lundgren, Cuba Gooding Jr. and, this is not a joke, Bill Murray. After being optioned by production company Thunder Road, Director and notable Stunt Coordinator Chad Stahelski, uncredited co-director David Leitch and Keanu Reeves joined Kolstad in the creative process. This would not only change the name of the script but bring Wick’s age down from elder, Paul Newman-esque figure Kolstad once envisioned.
It is clear from the opening moments that something very different is going on in John Wick. Even by 2014, audiences were being bombarded with known franchises. Speculation on the plots of these movies always runs wild because a good portion of the audience has years of stories to refer back to. Audiences have come to speculate nearly as much as they view and it has become an element ingrained in internet pop culture. Eventually, someone will hit on a correct theory.
One death separated John Wick from the pack.
The brutal murder of John Wick’s puppy (jeez, that’s weird to write) is one of the most effective and ingenious moments in the history of the genre. Audiences are conditioned to expect brutality aimed toward the family of eventually vengeful heroes. We’re used to human victims across all genres and have even gotten to laughing at it in horror.
The puppy’s death just plain feels worse.
It’s not something we’re used to seeing and being able to show it on screen so bluntly brings a discomfort that is difficult to match. There’s a reason infants rarely die in film (and on film) and this death brings the audience right to that edge. Wick’s story is immediately unique as his wife died from disease before the narrative really begins and it is this last symbol of hope that is ripped from his grasp. It is a logical impetus for revenge, but there is more going on here. We soon learn that Wick may not just be the wealthy widower he appeared.
Off to the Races
From this point, I could present a book-report style article and take you through a journey of plot points. I’d probably get eight hundred words out of it too, but that’s not my goal. In fact, it is brevity that drives the excitement John Wick films.
Once it is firmly established that John is a very special type of killer and is connected to a vast network of other nigh super-humans, the action barely stops.
For three movies.
The genius of the John Wick films comes from this.
There is no point watching these films that there is anything more important than the action. I’m not saying there aren’t story elements as important, but it is a balancing act that has had spectacular results. Three films in and we still don’t know the whole story. John has been too busy fighting for it all to come to light. Little pieces of information are dropped about his past while we’re being entertained. This pacing of exposition not only makes the fantastic story easy to digest but has allowed Wick to remain mysterious for nearly 6 hours of screen time. This is not unlike Wolverine in his comic book heyday, where the audience would hope to be treated to just a little more information. Since these films are just that, we legitimately don’t know where all of this is going and have no material to refer to. It makes the character intriguing while delivering what’s promised. It is okay not to know, as long as the character is doing what they’re built for.
Even early on, Kolstad mentioned a potential five films.
The fourth has already been announced, so I’m pretty sure we’ll make it to all of the answers.