How can the same thing happen to the same guy twice?
by Matthew Gohn
Sequels are tricky. On the one hand, more people will see the next Avengers film than vote in the 2016 election (based on no study whatsoever.) On the other hand, if you do a sequel wrong, audiences will turn away from you like you're Chris Christie during a federal investigation. Perhaps the worst outcome of a sequel is that it ruins your image of something you loved so much in the first place. See more here.
Right now the powers that be have are developing a sequel to John Wick. This news that both intrigues and concerns me. John Wick came out of left field for most people in 2014. It starred Keanu Reeves-whose career has been less than inspiring for the past decade in what on the surface looked like an excuse for him act out a gun porn fantasy. And on the surface it was exactly that.
But there is something to be said for John Wick and it's lack of pomp and circumstance. The story is as straightforward as they come. Russian gangsters kill John Wick's dog, a dog given to him by his recently deceased wife, and motivate him to grieve the only way he knows how-by killing everyone.
As basic as the plot is, there are many things that elevate John Wick a cut above the Takens of the world. For starters the action is sublime. You won't find any shaky-cam here, but rather action sequences that are choreographed with the camera in mind. The action is fluid and balletic. Then there is a great tone to the film. It's a bit callous with human life at times, but if you can ignore the fetishizing of gun violence you will find the characters slick, cool, and fun.
Finally, John Wick has some of my favorite world-building seen in recent years. Most of this is centered around a hotel, The Continental, that caters exclusively to assassins. I don't want to give too much away but there is a set of rules and attitudes shared amongst these people. There are assassins, sure, but you also have bosses, and cleanup crews, as well as code for when you want things to get done. It's very simple and thus utterly engaging.
Anyway, fast forward to 2015. John Wick was cheap to make, loved by critics, and had modest financial success. Word of mouth has kept it alive and it's guaranteed more people will line up to see a sequel when it arrives.
But John Wick is also the kind of disposable one-off action flick that doesn't need a sequel the same way Die Hard didn't need a sequel. And another sequel. And another sequel. And a hodgepodge of explosions and callbacks servicing as a fifth sequel. As enjoyable as it was, the desire to spend more time with John Wick means we run the risk of dilluting something good. But not all hope is lost. Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, stunt coordinators who debuted their directing with John Wick had this to say.
If there’s great action but you have a character that no one likes and doesn’t have charisma, you’re not going to watch it. Look at any great action star, whether it’s Harrison Ford or Liam Neeson or Robert Downey Jr., pick a name. You love the guy first. Good action, bad action, you just love them in action. So we want to make sure we have a story and a character that everybody loves and then we’ll dress it with action that we promise will be awesome.
It seems these two stuntmen have a better understanding of why we take movies to heart better than most studio heads. They're absolutely right. Even though John Wick's motivations are a bit straightforward, you do feel for the guy. Or for his dog.
Stahelski and Leitch had a great debut, the kind of debut that indicates their best film is still ahead of them. And their comments on loving character before action are heartening. That being said, I'm hard pressed to see how they bring master killer John Wick out of retirement-again. It's tired trope, one that worked to their advantage the first time, but it's risky to find a reason to try it again. Suddenly a random event is forced to become a jumping off point for a grand complicated story that never needed expansiveness in the first place.
The Hangover was the worst offender of this. When the first film did well they produced a carbon copy sequel that repeated jokes beat for beat. The third film in the franchise suddenly had the worst shoehorned plot in existence, cramming in some backstory that tied the Wolf Pack together from the very beginning. Essentially they turned what was a random occurrence into some pre-destined adventure with John Goodman delivering some expository dialogue, "And it all started four years ago when this moron sold the wrong drugs to this dumb fuck. You have no idea the chain of events that were set in motion that night in the parking lot of a fucking liquor store."
So while they talk the talk, time will tell if they can walk the walk. And yet, I don't think a sequel is the worst idea for John Wick. In fact, I welcome it, but I have a different idea for what it should be about.
Instead of a followup adventure that shoehorns a reason for John Wick to murder everyone again, they should reshoot one of the initial scenes when John enters The Continental. Shoot it from an alternate perspective where another hitman staying at that hotel happens to enter the scene. Have a new timeline branch out of that seemingly inocuous moment from the first film and have it set in that universe. Perhaps we get some cocky kid who hasn't earned the Baba Yaga status that John Wick has. Perhaps it's a lady assassin, not unlike Adrianne Palicki. Perhaps it's a story about Lance Reddick's French concierge (you know as well as me that you want to know his story.)
My point is, John Wick is an interesting part of an even more interesting universe. And while the shared cinematic universe is quickly becoming Hollywood's favorite trope, this is an instance where the world building could feel genuine. And I personally found The Continental to be the most interesting part of John Wick, I'd like to see more about what happens there, as opposed to another impossible to survive mission starring Keanu. Time will tell. Until then, I'll play the John Wick anthem on repeat.