What’s philosophy got to do with action movies?
Part of my decision to write this article is to give me a break from all the politicized posts and write about another passion of mine: Art critique. Particularly movies and music, as well as video games (yes, I consider video game production to be an art). It offers me a chance to use my powers of rational conjecture on more light-hearted subjects, so as to not always have to feel like I need to be at the utmost of reason, when analysing things. So, consider this a treat that I give to myself for you.
John Wick – Guns, knives, fists, blood, women, cars…
There’s a recipee for action movies and it is essentially the above, in no specific order. John Wick has all these things, but I find it is admirable in the way it does not give into any clichés too badly. While the summary of “one-man army takes on russian mob after they kill his dog and steal his car” might be fitting for a parody movie, this movie apparently takes this very seriously, which kind of puts a spin on the parody movie, in an ironic way.
The main character of John Wick is believable, as he’s played by Keanu Reeves who couldn’t possibly fail at portraying a jaded ex-hit man. Keanu’s most famous roles in cinema have almost always orbitted around stoic warriors with a chip on their shoulders. Neo, although initially uncaring, does feel this need to serve humanity toward the end of the Matrix movie, and then the rest of the series. John Wick in this case is trying to enjoy retirement, but it is spoiled by the death of the woman who helped pull him out of his life of violence.
Only thing he has left for himself, aside from a giant house (relative to the amount of people living in it), is a dog that his wife left him. It was all that reminded him of her. He also happens to sport a ’69 Ford Mustang with a seductive purring engine. At the beginning of the movie, this seems to be hardly enough to keep him together, as we find him drinking and weeping over the loss of his wife. There’s not much that is said about her, other than she completed him. That is definitely a trope of women in action movies, as being some kind of accessory for the character to be in a state of turmoil. Usually in the case of noir-styled movies and video games (à la Max Payne 1 and 2).
But in this case, what breaks the already strenuous transit from married life to single life is the arrival in town of a Russian mobster, who just so happens to be luckily (or unluckily, in his case) going to the same gas station as John Wick. The mobster arrives in a very expensive looking BMW and while John is filling up his ’69 mustang (probably the third time that day), the Russian kid tries to get Wick to sell him his car.
Obviously, John’s virile retort is: “She’s not for sale” showing that even in death, women live on through other things in a man’s life. There is a strange narrative track in the beginning of the movie about cars being “sluts” for some reason? I’m unsure what it means, I guess it has something to do with “riding” them. So, the Russian kid is unhappy with being told off, because of course someone will just let you buy their beloved collection mustang car in the middle of the day, while at a gas station.
What’s with John anyway? Easy buck to make, and if anything, he can just buy another mustang, right? To be fair, however, if I had a ’69 mustang, I probably wouldn’t want to sell it either. Moving on…
Russian Mobster, angry ex-hit man, dead dog, bad news.
The Russian mob finds Wick back at his home and assaults him during the night, killing his dog and stealing his car. Now, the car is one thing, but because the dog was carrying his deceased wife’s soul, John finds this is personal. He endeavors first to bury his dog, tears and dirt all over himself, and then to unlock the part of himself he has held deep within the confines of his underground closet. Dostoievsky would be proud.
Using a symbollical hammer, he shatters the pristine looking floor to reveal a stash of guns, gold coins and ammo. John Wick, the hit man, is on the loose and looking for revenge. Meanwhile, Russian Kid Mobster finds Russian Dad Mobster at his home. Turns out he tried to remove the plates for that Mustang and get it registered under another one. John Leguizamo makes a cameo appearance here to tell him off in typical spanish fashion, because he knows who that car belongs to, but for the sake of movie tension, refuses to tell the Kid who it belongs to and instead just sends him home to his dad.
Dad has a call to make to Leguizamo and asks him: “I heard you struck my son. Why?” To which Leguizamo explains that Russian Kid Mobster stole Wick’s car and killed his dog. Dad Mobster knows what this implies, and decides to let Leguizamo go, and so does the movie. I’m questioning here how much they paid Leguizamo for a minute part in such an engrossing title. Either way, what matters is that Dad Mobster now needs to tell his son he fucked up. Fucked up BAD.
Russian Kid Mobster learns that John Wick’s nickname is “Baba Yaga” which is “Boogeyman”. No, not THE Boogeyman. The man you SEND to KILL the Boogeyman, per Dad’s own words. In a few sentences, Dad Mobster settles just how bad-ass John is and how utterly fucked his son now has become as well. “You will do nothing, because you can do nothing” Dad says, to the chagrin of his wayward offspring. Nevertheless, Dad Mobster does not want to lose his son, therefore he orders a hit on Wick, to catch him before he completely hatches into the Bad Ass Motherfucker he once was.
A deadly ballet of bullets, guns, women and blood.
I’d describe what happens next, but it bears very little importance, because I can’t convey what John Wick does visually, to convey stylized violence. Keanu shows he has been doing some serious training for his role because he does all of his stunts himself and even shows very impressive gun handling. None of it feels forced, it looks actually like what you would expect of a man who’s shot millions of bullets and killed hundreds of dudes. The action is fast-paced, brutal, efficient, professional. Not to mention the kick-ass electro music that comes with it. You get a mix of hard-thumping dubstep, lounge, house, rock, with very effective sound effects and blood effects as well.
John is quiet, stealthy but doesn’t fear being discovered, and he doesn’t do any of the flashy shoot-dodging that is so frequently used in cinema. Nope, he uses some funky gun-fu techniques that allow him to always be ready to pick out the next target, while using cover or other henchmen as a platform to steady his aim. There isn’t wise-cracking one-liners, there’s no evil stare-down with the villain standing wide in the open, waiting for the hero to crack down on him. None of that cliché’d stuff.
Instead, John just mows the floor with his enemies, while seldom taking a bullet or a wound; the movie even going to lengths to explain how he can keep fighting even if he got stabbed in his lower abdomen, going so far as to reproduce skin tearing while he’s deploying considerable efforts. This, to me, is why this movie is worth watching and it does not hide away from this fact. Each scene leads-up to a set-piece of epic action that still never feels too out of touch with reality. Nothing like for exemple, the Transporter hooking his car to a crane mid-flight from a jump and then landing safely on all wheels.
There is a poor representation of women in this movie, and partly of course because this is mob material, but the one woman Wick fights with is of course a Femme Fatale. Their fight has some silly innuendo brought on by Perkins herself, but the character feels a little forced, considering all we ever know of her is that she’s pretty and she’s a bounty hunter. She gets disposed of like trash in the end of the movie for having tried to kill Wick on “Continental Grounds” which is an off-limit for the bounty hunters. The value of the Gold Coins is never really explained, because when henchmen invade Wick’s house, he pays the “cleaners” that come after with ten gold coins.
Then, when Dad Mobster puts a contract on him, he puts it at two million dollars, yet when Perkins invades Wick’s hotel room, she steals a gold coin from another hunter which was tasked with keeping her bound. Not much explanation being done there, other than to indicate that they are worth a certain sum of money, but why would Perkins care for the golden coin if she was going to get 4 million dollars by killing Wick?
On the women representation part, well, most women in this movie are accessories that indicate wealth and they’re all very thinly dressed or behaving in sultry fashion. I don’t think it’s that big of an issue though, considering this is a guy movie, but it does appear to me that it perpetuates that action movies with women in them always paint women as either being evil sluts or mindless sluts, when they aren’t deceased angels of virtue that oozed beauty and kindness by their very existence, soothing the blackened souls of men.
CARS. Some of the car sections had some very painfully cringey product placement for big name companies. For example, the Ford Mustang has a full pan of camera in the beginning of the movie, and we spend at least a few minutes watching Wick perform stunts with it and trying to kill himself by driving head-first toward a freight truck (he brakes just before impact). Later down the movie, he gets a car given to him by the Continental and the movie goes into musical flourish as the camera shows every angle of the Dodge Charger he has been given, taking at least 30 seconds just to show John getting in the car and driving away.
I could almost hear the editing room erupt in ejaculations as this part played and headbutting themselves like: “YUUUUH DODGE CHARGER BROOOOO” I also felt there was a bit too much emphasis put into the tacti-cool aspect of the movie, especially toward the end where John Wick uses the charger to do excessively accurate drive-by shootings of cars and driving them off the road.
My worst peeve with this movie though is the usage of the “smell you later” trope of villains leaving the hero in the hands of henchmen while they go away. I were a villain in an action movie, and I got my chance to kill the hero, I would do him in with a simple gunshot to the face, and then burn the body, to make sure. None of this “Okay, I have mor important things to do than to deal with my mortal enemy, so henchmen, please handle this highly-trained killer who will absolutely not escape or try to kill you” bullcrap. Kill the hero when you have him, villains!
These wouldn’t have made me stop watching the movie either, because overall, John Wick is a masterfully done action flick.
TL;DR: John Wick is a must-see for the action-movie lover who wants to watch a tightly coordinated action flick with all of the necessary attributes one might expect of one but surprisingly without the worst parts of action movie territory (over-the-top villains, pointless existential monologues, wisecracking heroes, etc.).