A good tale strays in search of a legend. discovers it and raises it. We were drawn to John Wick in 2014 because of the plot—a guy seeks vengeance when a man-child kills his puppy—and the not-so-secretive network of assassins. The extended hand-to-hand fighting at breakneck speed—almost a throwback to Jackie Chan’s best work without the cutaways—only made the experience more entertaining. Then, like every selected hero and well-received movie, John Wick established a franchise.
The fourth movie starring Donnie Yen debuted its trailer last week. The movie is set to hit theatres early in 2019. The project by Chad Stahelski, Derek Kolstad, and Keanu Reeves may appear to be something they made up as they went along, yet the stakes kept rising thanks to its captivating, reliable, and decadent galaxy.
The three movies released so far don’t have enough time in their histories to depict the range of a franchise, however (spin-offs are in development). It lasts for no more than a few weeks or months. The most amazing thing about this world, though, is how it broadens our range of vision with each new installment, like discovering a trail of book pages on a windy day that makes up entire chapters. While it’s true that we sigh at the prospect of yet another sequel, we also learn that there is an underground kingdom in Manhattan’s lower streets that has no respect for the High Table. Or we discover a marking and its importance—it ties the soul, not the body, which the movie generously uses, as if there is a higher force in this cosmos watching down upon these expert users of limbs and weapons—and it has significance. The movies have a strong preference for eastern orthodox Christianity, starting with the character’s ancestry.
It’s a franchise in which we move backward. When people kept questioning Wick about his infamous retirement, he finally responded, “I suppose I am back,” in the very first movie. The line refers to a retired assassin taking revenge on his loved ones in a fantastic but understated noir movie. But those words conceal a violent past and a myth, a fanciful world whose depth and breadth we had not yet encountered.
The fundamental element of these movies is a myth. And with each new movie, we see how John Wick’s legend transcends national boundaries. It’s where a cleaning agency is employed full-time to remove bodies and restore the cleanliness of a crime scene. In the grand scheme of things, this is perhaps the least significant element. On these streets, people don’t have to avoid writhing, injured bodies. Physical constraints run the length of the body, and violence is accustomed to the average person. There is a brief glimpse of spectators fleeing a fight while shouting, but other than that, everything goes on as usual. No one objects since like, in an Italian neo-realistic movie, the extras could suddenly transition into the main actors.
The Continental’s branches are among the safest places on earth. All bets are off in any other location. Nowadays, not even the New York Public Library is sacred. While Wick murders a man with a Russian book just a few feet away, a woman reads calmly as if nothing is wrong.
Because it’s not our world, these movies are especially gut-wrenching and compelling. Law and order have vanished from the streets and are not even political topics anymore. They portray a world in which lawlessness is encouraged and accepted as the norm. An entire bookkeeping business creates jobs and offers additional customer service.
The creators spice up the story with all kinds of film references, including those to silent movies, westerns, neo-noir, and Asian martial arts movies. The first movie was a big bang in every sense of the word that only drew us deeper into a fascinating universe, so it never becomes bloated.