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John Wick and the Art of World Building

November 17, 2014

jonh wick poster

John Wick does something cool. It establishes a world with rules, hitmen hotels and gold coins. Keanu Reeve’s character is the man you call to murder the boogeyman and he gets reawakened when his dog is killed (shameless emotional manipulation via puppy death). It is a violent odyssey down a rabbit hole of death that builds a new world to explore.

The film kicks off as Reeve’s wife passes away due to illness. In order for him to not cope alone his wife got him an adorable puppy. During an afternoon drive his beautiful Mustang catches the attention of a crime lord’s son played by punk du jour Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones). The car is stolen, the dog is killed and all hell breaks loose.

john wick kick

The violence is visceral and the close quartered gun fights play like an Equilibrium/Hard Boiled mash-up. Keanu once again proves he puts the work in when surrounded by violence. His action films The Matrix, Speed and Point Break are all action classics that feature a different variation of action Keanu. Wick works perfectly with his zen-like demeanor as words are kept to a minimum and gun/fist fights/slow motion walking are prevalent.

john wick

John Wick has been twenty years in the making. Reeve’s met one of the directors Chad Stahleski when he was a stunt man on Point Break. He then met David Leitch on The Matrix films (similar to Keanu’s experience on The Man of Tai Chi). The three kept in touch and it led to John Wick.

Director Chad Stahleski has this to say about reteaming with Keanu

“Our rapport translates really well. Having known him so long and having a really good relationship with him, on many different levels. We just have a very good dialogue with him, which also translates into the action we wanted. … We know how he moves. We know his process. He’s just one of those actors who’s phenomenal in an action sequence, so I think that really helped.”

The most talked about aspect of the film is the world building. Keanu and crew introduce us to a hitman hotel where fighting is not allowed and non-compliance ends in death. The hitmen use gold coins as currency and there is a death like cleaner who will tidy up your place after murders. I like that writers Joel Zadak and Derek Kolstad established a dense world where honor is appreciated and Ian McShane waxes poetic over martinis. There is a supernatural vibe to the mayhem and further installments can really flesh out the world (without dog death).

John Wick has been rightly praised (84% RT) for its well thought out action and world building.. The cast is fantastic and comprised of some of my favorite actors like Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, Alfie Allen, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo and Wire duo Lance Reddick and Clark Peters.

Watch John Wick. Appreciate the violence. Be glad Keanu is back.



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