Technical Proficiency & Emotional Agency In John Wick
I reviewed John Wick back when it was released in 2014 and gave it a positive review. Several years on, my love has only grown for the genre-specific action flick. I’d go as far as calling John Wick a near perfect movie.
Among the many elements executed as precisely and efficiently as John Wick executes headshots, John Wick is peppered with world building better implemented than most major franchises. It’s added flavor, both unique and essential to the stylings of this underworld of assassins. Visually while not only appealing with uses of color and production design, the world of Wick is coordinated with a thorough code. While the characters discuss the secret assassin world on the fringes of society, it’s these implementations that bolster the feel of heightened reality.
The storytelling feels intimate and mythic, unlike any other action film except perhaps other modern classic Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s neon coded visuals representing his descent into the criminal underworld, a far cry from the soft hues of the opening intimacy as we are introduced to John Wick in mourning. John’s black funeral attire carries a weight of sadness but damn if he doesn’t look good in a suit. And that’s exactly the problem. John’s at home in the black suit. Whether he’s doling it out for business contracts or dealing with the passing of a loved one, the connection to death is a life John is more than familiar with.
The titular character walks from scene to scene, eliciting responses and similarities to other modern action movies. Yet the guiding factor (and defining difference) in John Wick is his drive. Action movies drenched in machismo often rely on the pain of someone dear to him by a villain. Then we get an excuse for a man to go and murder a bunch of people in the name of revenge. Alfie Allen’s villain plays like a modern take on Theon Greyjoy with no conscience. He’s heartless scum whose fate is decided for him the moment he killed the last bastion of John’s possible normalcy. There’s a quality to this specific angst that is more than superficial excuse to feel comfortable with mass murder.
Wick has elements of a classic revenge tale but it’s not entirely committed to John Wick being the most glorious badass ever. Nearly every character asks if John is returning to the assassin fold with several warning him to stray away. There’s an air of melancholy as John dispatches countless henchmen as he strays further from the new world he had cultivated for himself alongside his wife. So while his wife isn’t taken from him because of the life he lived, a careless byproduct of the past ends up killing his connection to peace and happiness. It’s a new approach to similar ideas of the “vulnerable action hero”. After wiping the floor with the first dozen or so hitmen that raid John’s house, it’s obvious he’s more proficient in killing than Average Joe John McClane. His vulnerability stems from his emotions.
Obviously there are various instances where John’s life is in jeopardy and the stakes are life and death. It’s the emotional journey of the character that propels us alongside visceral action sequences. You can have similar beats of an action hero taking on an entire crime syndicate without the emotional vulnerability but you see endless amounts of those in January and February already. There’s a legitimate pathos to the character mined in the action sequences and capitalized on idyllic vignettes of John’s worldview. Not every movie needs to have an emotional connection based in character to be considered great but the marriage of technical proficiency in the action and how it builds the personal touches is something to be appreciated. It’s just damn good filmmaking.
The final shot shows John walking across the boardwalk where his wife fell ill. John walks home with a new dog to accompany him and a revised sense of contentment away from his dark past once again. It’s a serene final moment both earned and executed with subdued gravitas. What a movie.
Featured Image: Summit Entertainment