John Wick was a dark horse hit of 2014, bringing action fans a Hollywood film that could finally stand against acclaimed imports like The Raid series from Indonesia, or the long list of martial arts flicks from various Asiatic countries. Starring Keanu Reeves as a legendary hitman called out of retirement by the murder of his puppy, stunt men-turned-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch crafted a simple and effective action movie that more than satisfied fans of the genre, and made nearly $80 million worldwide on a $20 million budget.
Naturally, attention has now turned to making John Wick 2, which was officially announced just past this week. Stahelski and Leitch are returning to direct, and they’ve already vowed to outdo the action of the first film – if they can get the story right, of course. It seems as though Lionsgate may have even bigger plans for the John Wick property, as Variety quotes CEO Jon Feltheimer as saying, “We see ‘John Wick’ as a multiple-title action franchise.”
Now, in the 20th century sense, that would mean an automatic plan for a John Wick trilogy; however, in the 21st century the movie business is a lot more lateral than linear, with expansive shared universes being the order of the day. As I’ve said before on our SRUnderground Podcast, John Wick may not at first seem like an obvious candidate for such franchise expansion – but it indeed is, and here are 4 Reasons Why.
4. It Has a Rich Mythos
One of things I noted in my official John Wick review was the unexpected surprise of having Reeves’ titular character steeped in such a rich backstory and mythos. John Wick‘s “Underworld beneath our world” setting was fascinating, with implication of a unique politics, economics, philosophy, major figures and a whole bloody history serving as its foundation. What more do you need to sustain a good franchise?
With so much rich material to work with, John Wick could be splintered off into TV series, spinoff films, games or comic books that have nothing to do with the main man of the franchise. Other assassins or underworld figures in the movie were interesting in their own right (like Lance Riddick’s “hotel” manager), and with the suggestion of underworld syndicates and orders all on the game board, there’s plenty to play with.
In fact, it’d be kind of wonderfully ironic if the main film installments kept on being simplistic action flicks, while things like a TV series went into deeper more complex aspects of the underworld. Which leads us to the next point:
3. There’s Easy Movie Sequel Potential
The thing about John Wick that made it an easy sell was just how straightforward and simple the premise was: deadliest guy in the world gets puppy from dead wife; bad guys kill puppy; deadliest guy in the world drops a lot of bodies to avenge puppy.
Yes, the mythos surrounding that premise was much richer and more extensive, but the mission objective in the film was always 100% crystal-clear, and everyone was sold on the motivation behind it. With viewers now cued to having that be their John Wick movie experience, there’s no reason that sequels should attempt to overcomplicate the formula.
John Wick Directors Talk Sequel
With the directors already focused on outdoing the action of the first film, let’s just keep things simple (and relatively inexpensive) and indulge in what we all want to see! If the second film has something like a larger organization sending 8 deadly assassins after John Wick, what fan wouldn’t watch at least 90 minutes of John Wick killing 8 assassins and an evil cartel?
This movie franchise can keep doing its thing against 100 different simplistic action movie backdrops (buddy cop threequel?), and still end up on the right side of awesome, every time.
2. It Also Has Multimedia Potential
So much of the multimedia shared universe game is based on brand recognition, and John Wick has enough built-in brand recognition to really make the crossover to mediums like TV, video games or comics. While certain options (TV, comics) are better than others (gaming), the fact that John Wick has so much mythos behind it makes any one of these options viable, provided the right creative team takes the right approach.
We know from the film that underworld John inhabits is filled with various organizations, syndicates, and even strange orders that maintain a code of honor among the thieves and killers – any of that material would be interesting to explore in longer form (like a TV series).
Story elements like how John Wick was trained (and why) make for great spinoff films, while any kind of arbitrary mission John Wick goes on could be spun into an exciting video game or graphic novel that could eventually tie back into a movie or TV series. By now, you know the drill.
Although the film itself was simple (and should be), there’s enough meaty world to blow this franchise out into something much bigger, and the franchise can still hold itself together because:
1. It Has a Signature Style
John Wick carved out a niche for itself using two effective things: 1) Neo-Noir visual composition and genre tropes, which created the seedy underworld of shifty characters and femme fatales. 2) A “Gun Fu” action style that was brutally satisfying and wonderfully choreographed onscreen.
With a particular style, tone, and action signature all under its belt, the franchise can move into any of the aforementioned multimedia avenues (games, spinoffs, TV, etc.) and still retain the identity of belonging to a larger John Wick universe that is consistent with the film that originated it.
As stated, so long as the brand recognition and mythos is all there, sky is the limit as to what can be introduced or further explored, with a built-in viewing audience coming along for the ride.
What’s there left to say? John Wick 2 is currently in development – but there’s room for action fans to enjoy this great franchise on multiple fronts. We’ll see what develops.