A Film Review: John Wick, Can Excessive Violence Save a Movie with No Story?

Action movies aren’t known for their thoughtfulness in the content they display. John Wick is no different. Its simplistic one sided depiction of violence with one dimensional characters speaking atrociously written dialogue is characteristic of the genre. Why then should I write a film review of a bad movie? What interests me is the kind of story its telling when the whole movie is centered on the violence created by the lead character. Does this kind of violence add or subtract from the story?

John Wick brings nothing new to the action movie genre. The story is simple. John Wick, played by Keanu Reeves, is a retired hitman who is mourning the death of his wife. A late gift arrives at his house from his dead wife, which is a dog. The dog helps him through the mourning process. Then one day some Russian mobsters see him driving around in a muscle car trying to buy it. John Wick Refuses, so they sneak into his house at night beat him up, kill his dog and steal his car. John Wick then sets about getting his revenge on the people who killed his dog.

What I want to focus in on is his justification for his killing spree, the dog being killed. They often say it again and again in the film, when John Wick is on a kill crazy rampage. “It’s just a dog”. “It’s just a dog”. They explain it in a little more detail in a scene where John Wick is being detained by the Russian Mob boss. In short he says it was like his wife being taken away again. Being angry seems justifiable, going off the deep end as a writing device is pretty weak. The logic behind it is like the annoyance in DMV line, where you wait so long you feel your time being wasted on a simple task and then decide you’re going to kill everyone for wasting your time. There are some variables that may make this scenario look more plausible, John Wick is a trained killer who’s already accepted violence as an acceptable means, so his mind is more apt to act in that way in comparison to how normal people behind think and act. When you consider the trigger for all his behavior, it’s an extreme overreaction. The message being if there’s enough emotional content behind an object, no matter how small will justify any behavior to avenge its destruction. It’s a rather typical and nauseating action movie device. It’s an easy way to get the audience emotionally involved if a father, mother, brother, sister, wife, husband, son or daughter is threatened. The relationship though is never developed farther than a one to two minute scene. It’s trying to quickly establish something that takes time to create a meaningful character dynamic. Rendering it a quick interlude that justifies all the killing. That device though is transferred to the dog for the dog represents the continuing presence of this relationship in John Wick’s life. He also gets beat up and his car is stolen but they never really mention that, it’s the dog in the movie that’s the focal point.

Considering all of this does the violence help the story of the movie? The answer is no, the movie is lop sided with a voyeuristic attention to detail on how John Wick kills people without any further meaning. There are times in which violence tells a story. In the Lord of the Rings film the war taking place is a representation of the eternal struggle of good against evil. In the Matrix the actions sequences are to play up the drama of finding truth in a fake reality. Kung Fu films like IP-man has fighting sequences in order to display the virtue of the combatants and to pit national values against their enemies in IP-man it was China versus Japan. There is a point to the violence in these films. John Wick barely has a point. What that point is……. gets lost in how dumb it is.

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2 thoughts on “A Film Review: John Wick, Can Excessive Violence Save a Movie with No Story?

  1. You have a point here, but considering that the directors of the this movie used to be stunt coordinators, you’d except nothing but pure action. I think this is their debut film, and most people can forgive them from giving emphasis on style over substance. But for an action film though, it’s quite good at doing its job.

  2. Yea, I think perhaps you went into John Wick expecting more than epically choreographed gun play. If that seems too one-dimensional for you to enjoy, I can see why you didn’t like it. But since I think I’d probably still like equilibrium if it lacked the overtones of freedom and control for its gun kata coolness, I can like John Wick.

    Also, I read his revenge more as a hitman’s suicide than I did a recompense for what the dog’s death catalyzed. It seemed to me he wasn’t extremely worried about whether he lived or died and was more just using the events as an excuse to increase his probability of death.

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