To call John Wick a success would be an understatement. The 2014 Keanu Reeves action vehicle about a former hitman out for revenge against the mobsters that killed his dog was a revelation, thanks to its sleek, fast-paced choreography and intricate design. And thankfully, we all saw it in droves, leading us to the now soon-to-be released sequel, John Wick: Chapter 2.
Getting a sequel green lit so quickly is somewhat remarkable given that fresh IPs are becoming a rarer commodity these days, as more and more remakes and reboots take over the cineplexes. John Wick and movies like it don’t often manage to get as much of a look in competing with the likes of the MCU and other such franchises for media and audience attention. Now that John Wick has that audience though, a single sequel or set of sequels would be an underselling of what is one of the most interesting and vibrant cinematic worlds we’ve seen in recent years.
One of the sharpest aspects of John Wick is its sense of balance between story and world-building. Writer Derek Kolstead and directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch clearly went to a lot of trouble to make sure that almost every plot-point was couched by some little tidbit about the fascinating world they’d built. Each new character and encounter brought with it another uncovering of the tangled, almost fantasy-like realm of all these guns-for-hire and how their lives and jobs intertwined with one another. The setting is arguably more intriguing than the lead character and may have stolen the show had the actual plot not been such a simple, affecting journey about grief and catharsis.
John Wick is a story that’s happening within a living world with well-established rules that’s kind of ambivalent to the events therein. A Russian mob boss getting into a tussle with a highly-respected and retired hitman is ill-advised, but it’s a risk of the job, on both ends. And when John visits the Continental hotel from which he and other members of the criminal underworld operate, it’s just another day on the farm, with a reminder that the hotel itself is to be a business-free zone. Every side character and location serves a specific function to the story, and paying close attention to everyone John comes across and where he meets them is a rewarding venture as it makes the mounting tension even more exciting.
Everything and everyone we see in the film has a history – from Ian McShane’s Winston, the mysterious owner of the Continental, to Lance Reddick’s Charon, a hotel concierge with a knack for predicting what any client is looking for and Adrianne Palicki’s Ms. Perkins, a seasoned assassin with whom John is professionally acquainted. Their presence is almost incidental – John’s particularly bad day has just so happened to cross over with their otherwise totally regular one, and they each have a particular allure to them as a result. A curiosity hangs over each character and conversation, especially as things escalate and get more complicated.
If the main series of movies is going to focus solely on John himself, as the Chapter 2 subtitle alludes, then other mediums and methods of storytelling should be utilized to add background and depth to this already dynamic world. Comics that tell of Ms. Perkins’ illustrious career, or Tom Clancy-esque crime novels on Willem Dafoe’s Marcus, a grizzled old-guard hitman who takes a contract on John in the film. Perhaps even a TV series focusing on Winston running the Continental through the years – a spiritual successor to McShane’s time on HBO’s Deadwood.
These stories could take on some of the heavy-lifting of answering curious fans for whom the films aren’t quite enough. One of the great qualities of the first John Wick is that any peculiarity among any character is carefully measured so that it never intrudes on their role in the story. They serve their function to the plot as defined by their pre-existing position in the world, and any questions we’re left with are secondary to that. Spin-off material is an ideal way to satiate that hunger for more without tampering with the stream-lined quality observed in the first movie.
In an era where studios are so readily throwing themselves at the chance to expand a property, John Wick presents an opportunity to do so through genuine, natural interest. It found its audience through word-of-mouth and kept it by being a refreshing, entertaining and evocative piece of work made by a strong set of creators. Like any original movie, John Wick was a big risk, yet it bucked expectation and trends and proved that it’s possible to create something new and exciting. At a time when truly interesting ideas can feel in short supply, this is one that deserves as much milking as it can get.