We're just a little over a week way until John Wick: Chapter 2 debuts in theaters (February 10, to be exact). The highly anticipated sequel to 2014's critically acclaimed actioner John Wick looks to expand on the intriguing comic book-esque universe introduced in the original film, and will see Keanu Reeves return as the titular character, a former assassin who just can't escape his murderous past.
John Wick is one of the most refreshing action pictures in ages, downplaying digital effects and cookie-cutter plotting by introducing a nuanced character, and plenty of kick-ass action mixed in with subversive humor. It's brutal, beautiful and fresh, combining numerous classic action movie tropes into a winning new formula.
So what exactly makes John Wick tick? What's behind the character, the supporting cast, the mythos, and the film series' creative team? Here are 15 little-known Wick factoids to help fill in the blanks and get you pumped while we anxiously await John Wick Chapter 2.
15 The Meaning of the Back Tattoo
Before John Wick went from grieving husband to a vengeful assassin pulled back into the world he wished to escape, we see Reeves in the shower, with a broad tattoo across his back. The Latin phrase, "Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat" appears in big, broad letters at the top, and it translates into English as "Fortune Favors the Bold." The origin of the phrase is military, the motto for the 3rd Battalion Marine base in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. This hints at Wick's military past before his time as a mob assassin, while also serving as a nod to star Keanu Reeves' Hawaiian heritage (his father was a Hawaiian native).
The fact that the tattoo is never explained or referenced in the film beyond that brief shot says a lot about co-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch's confidence in their material, leaving a hint of mystery, adding just enough texture and intrigue without the need to explain every detail. But one message is clear: Wick is a badass.
14 The Matrix Connection
One of the most exciting aspects of John Wick Chapter 2, will be the reunion between Keanu Reeves and his Matrix co-star, Lawrence Fishburne. Their team-up is just one of many connections to the iconic sci-fi film series the two starred in back in 1999.
The first John Wick film also featured several Matrix alumni, including Daniel Bernhardt (who played an agent in The Matrix), and Randall Duk Kim (The Keymaker). Both of the film's directors got their big break as stunt coordinators on The Matrix trilogy, which would prove fortuitous when Reeves reached out to see if they wanted to choreograph the action scenes in John Wick. The duo felt so strongly about the project that they convinced producers to let them direct the film.
Regarding how Reeves and Fishburne reconnected for the sequel, Stahleski (who is the sole director on Chapter 2) stated "Keanu, myself and Laurence all worked together on the Matrix trilogy. So when Derrick (Kolstad, screenwriter) had written the character that Laurence plays in the script, it was really written with Laurence in mind...Keanu gave us a nice intro when they bumped into each other."
There's even a Matrix Easter Egg in the original film: Neo is a character name in the video game during the safe house scene.
13 Keanu Reeves Did Most of His Own Stunts
Reeves gave an intensely physical performance in John Wick (we'll discuss his training regimen in a bit), and his authenticity rings true in pretty much every frame of the film. The actor did 90% of his stunts (one of the few scenes that did require a stunt double was that oh-so-painful balcony fall in the nightclub fight). This is even more impressive given the fact that the actor had a bout of flu during filming. Reeves was so obsessed with getting his action sequences nailed that he memorized the entire nightclub film sequence on the very day it was filmed.
Reeves stunt work wasn't confined to fighting sequences, of course. He also did quite a bit of driving, including the scene of him letting off automotive steam at a private airport. In typical modesty, Reeves downplays his talents. In a 2014 interview with Indiewire, he states that it's just an extension of his role: "if I’m doing it, it’s not a stunt. Stunt men do stunts...I get to do some physical acting. I get involved in some action but they’re not stunts. I flip over guys, I get flipped, I run, I jump, I play."
12 PayDay 2
Two days before he made his cinematic début, John Wick was actually included as a downloadable character in Payday 2, a popular first-person shooter video game. The result of a promotional partnership between Lionsgate Films and Overkill Software, the game featured Wick (performed by voice actor Dave Fouquette) involved in a heist gang in Washington, D.C. who target banks, work as drug traffickers, and even rig an election and smuggle nuclear weapons.
The inclusion of Wick was a shrewd move, given fans of first-person shooter games would be the perfect audience for one of the best shoot' em up thrillers in ages. And John Wick isn't the only character to share synergy between Lionsgate and Overkill in the Payday game series; the two companies also partnered up to feature characters from the (ill-advised) Point Break remake.
Overkill would continue this concept with STX Entertainment films with Hardcore Henry, a Russian actioner that was filmed to look just like a first person shooter game.
11 Captain America: Civil War
As you probably noticed, John Wick's storytelling was inspired by comic books and graphic novels. And the assured, visual panache of directors Leitch and Stahelski weren't lost on Hollywood. The duo was tapped as second unit directors on Marvel Studio's Captain America: Civil War. The creative team was already familiar with comic book movies, of course, as Stahelski did stunt work on Iron Man 2, and both did second unit work on The Wolverine.
Civil War director Joe Russo explained why he knew the two would be a perfect fit for the production, stating: "We asked them if they’d come out and help us execute some of the action sequences along with Spiro Razatos, who’s generally regarded as the top guy along with Chad and Dave...we knew we had to work really hard to up our game from Winter Soldier."
You can see Leitch and Stahelski's handiwork in Civil War's opening scene, the adrenaline pumping fight between The Avengers and Crossbones in Lagos, Portugal. And Leitch isn't done with the superhero genre -- it was recently announced that he'll be directing the much-anticipated sequel to Deadpool.
10 Eva Longoria's Producing Credit
John Wick had a host of producers, which included co-director David Leitch, filmmaker James McTeigue (V For Vendetta), Basil Iwanyk, and Michael Witherill. But the most high-profile participant was lead producer (and Desperate Housewives actress) Eva Longoria.
So what drew Longoria to the project? Don't ask Leitch or Stahelski, who revealed on the film commentary that they encountered her during the 2014 production: “Never met her...but we thank her for writing a check!”
Finding any information online on what inspired the actress to co-produce the film proved to be a difficult task, but one look at her IMDB profile shows she has produced a diverse body of work, from thought-provoking documentaries (The Harvest, Food Chains), comedic television series (Devious Maids, Telenovela), and even an adult animated series (Mother Up!).
Surprisingly, given the original's financial success, the actress isn't producing John Wick Chapter 2. Nonetheless, diehard Wick fans owe her a debt of gratitude for writing that check, and having the foresight to help realize the film's potential.
9 Gun Fu
Another element that made John Wick stand out from other action thrillers was its unique action sequences featuring intense, stylistic violence. And perhaps the most memorable and inventive element in said scenes was the gun-play, which the filmmakers described as "gun fu."
The technique didn't actually originate in John Wick. Gun Fu was popularized by filmmaker John Woo in his 1986 cult classic Hong Kong thriller, A Better Tomorrow, which would go on to influence American films like The Matrix trilogy, where future directors Stahleski and Lietch first incorporated the technique in their stunt coordination. And John Wick is perhaps the most dynamic use of the fighting style, with the filmmakers stepping up their game in a major way.
So what exactly is gun fu? It's basically close-quarters shooting incorporated with martial arts, with all the grace and agility of a ballet performance. It's safe to say that Keanu Reeves pulled off the technique with remarkable accuracy and aplomb, so expect even more gun fu in Chapter 2.
8 A Vulnerable Anti-Hero
While Reeves's portrayal of John Wick is the epitome of the ruthless, stoic hitman, the actor didn't want his performance to be clichéd or one-note. In the Blu-ray commentary, the filmmakers noted that the actor wanted Wick to expose some sensitivity: "He emotes quite a bit, he gets to cry, walk around in his PJs…” It's this contrast of a more nuanced character trying to grieve and walk away from his brutal past that makes his eventual murderous rage all the more dynamic.
Reeves expanded upon this more exposed, delicate side during his initial fight scene with Perkins (Adrianne Palicki) in his hotel room. In the script, Wick was fully clothed in his suit, but Reeves suggested wearing just a t-shirt and pajamas, telling Stahelski, “I want to feel vulnerable."
It should be noted that some of Reeves more subdued performance work was likely influenced by the fact that he had the flu during the scenes in the MVP lounge and dance club. Not that it impaired the actor's professionalism, as Stahleski stated. “You couldn’t even get him to sit down. He just did take after take.”
7 Genre Influences
The intriguing world and characters behind John Wick were culled from a variety of sources. Screenwriter Derek Kolstad wrote the screenplay with the structure of a graphic novel, and the filmmakers shot it to have a comic book visual flair. Kolstad also drew from the literary works of Stephen King and Alistair MacLean, saying "MacLean could build a world, and King could surprise you by what the main character truly was capable of."
The film was also influenced by a host of classic movies, including Sergio Leone's spaghetti western The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and John Woo's 1989 action thriller The Killer, as well as the works of directors Sam Peckinpah and Akira Kurosawa. The co-directing team drew particular inspiration from the 1967 neo-noir crime thriller Point Blank, of which Stahelski said, "We watched it on a loop in our office and there are a couple homages to that [in John Wick]."
This mix of classic influences has given Wick an almost timeless quality that's made it an instant classic.
6 Mysterious Underworld
Perhaps the most integral aspect that made John Wick stand in stark contrast from so many other gangster films is in its creative world-building. While the characters are based in New York City, it's a stylized, abstract take on the metropolis, filmed in many areas that are rarely captured on a big budget studio film.
The richness of the characters also makes it unique, including the many that revolve around The Continental Hotel, a safe ground for the criminal élite, paying for services in gold coins in secretive fashion. Leitch and Stahelski decided less is more when documenting Wick's universe, using a sense of restraint increasingly rare in an industry prone to over-explaining plots to lazy audiences.
Both filmmakers discussed this in the John Wick Blu-ray commentary, saying elements like the coins, and other murky details were left mysterious for a reason: “A lot of people don’t give their audiences credit. You can leave it a little mysterious. They can think about it.” We can't wait to see what pieces of the puzzle are revealed in Chapter 2.
John Wick is a character marred by tragedy. Not only does he lose his wife Helen to an undisclosed illness, but her parting gift, an adorable beagle puppy named Daisy, gets killed by the Russian mob. The taking of that impossibly adorable/innocent life, one which was supposed to help him deal with his grief, is what sets him on his bloody vengeful path.
Daisies are a motif throughout the film. Wick mutters "Daisy, of course" when he discovers the name she picked, revealing that the flower had significance to his wife. We see this by the image of the flower in her hospital room, on a coffee mug, and on the card she writes to John before her death.
Studio heads actually suggested the filmmakers not kill the dog, knowing it would trouble audiences. In the end, it's impossible to imagine the film without it, as the beagle's death makes Wick's single-minded revenge all the more satisfying. Let's hope the pitbull pup that Reeves rescued at the end of the first film has better luck in Chapter 2.
Strange but true fun fact: the cost of CGI dog poop in John Wick? $5000.
4 Keanu Reeves' Intense Training Regimen
One major reason the John Wick character is such a blast to watch is the physicality Keanu Reeves brings to his performance. And while the actor makes it look effortless, the action sequences required extensive training in a variety of fighting skills.
Reeves worked for four months prepping for the role, working on judo and Japanese and Brazilian jujitsu, on top of extensive physical conditioning and gun training, on which he worked with both Los Angeles S.W.A.T. and Navy SEALs. Regarding his physical dedication to his craft, Leitch noted “He loves it and he hates it," and there's no denying he's deadly serious about getting it right.
From all appearances, it looks like Reeves is stepping up his game for the sequel. Last spring. a video emerged documenting his lightning fast accuracy in a firearms range. The actor (working with tactical gun instructor Taran Butler) weaves through an elaborate obstacle course, taking out target dummies with remarkable precision. It's exhausting just watching him, giving us even more respect for Reeves' commitment to his performance.
3 The Baba Yaga
One of the earliest film sequences to help establish John Wick's legendary assassin skills occurs when Yusef Tarasov, played by Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones) meets up with his father, mob boss Viggo, played by Michael Nyqvist (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo).
When Yusef jokes about how he killed Wick's dog and stole his car (unaware of Wick's connection to their family), Viggo punches him in the stomach. Then he goes about explaining just what a horrible mistake he made: "It's not what you did, son, that angers me so. It's who you did it to...he was once an associate of ours. We called him…Baba Yaga."
When Josef answers "The Boogeyman"? Viggo replies: "Well, John wasn't exactly 'The Boogeyman'. He was the one you sent to kill the f******' Boogeyman!"
The Baba Yaga originated in Slavic folklore, characterized as a supernatural being (usually in the form of a beast-like female) who can be friend or foe, depending on the circumstance. It's admittedly a bizarre association to Reeves' character, except to explain how his force-of-nature skills can help those who earn his loyalty--or condemn those who cross him to certain death.
2 A TV Prequel Is In The Works
In addition to John Wick Chapter 2, there may be even more of the mysterious hitman in our future, but this time on the small screen.
Chapter 2 Director Stahleksi has floated the idea of a television prequel, saying in an interview with /Film that: “We basically almost have a prequel written but we’d save that for other aspects of the property. Lionsgate is very interested in doing a John Wick TV show, and that seems very appealing to us, to give those creative ideas to that entity, because I think in TV you could really expand on what that is and greater than we could in just a two-hour film. We’d like to wrap up the story we’re telling now and maybe save all our prequel ideas and impossible task ideas for that medium.”
Given the film series' intriguing cast of characters and many questions raised about Wick's mafia past, the idea could certainly be thrilling if well-executed. Let's just hope Reeves is keen on doing a television project, because we just can't imagine anyone else filling out Wick's stylish suits.
1 What's Happening in Chapter 2?
So what can John Wick fans expect in Chapter 2? Major plot-points are still under wraps, but we know a few details on what the plot will focus on. Firstly, the film will have Wick face his assassin past. This means there's no chance for retirement, with the character traveling to Rome, Italy to meet a former associate. What's their connection? Full details are scarce, but we know a blood oath is involved, with Wick forced out of loyalty to join forces while plotting to take over the assassin's consortium of which they're both former members. Or in Wick's words, his goal is simply "to kill them all."
We can also expect to see several returning cast members, including Ian McShane as the owner of the gangster-friendly hotel The Continental, Bridget Moynihan as Wick's late wife, and John Leguizamo as chop-shop owner Aurelio.
Common will be playing the villain, accompanied by several other new cast members, including Ruby Rose (Orange is the New Black) and the aforementioned Lawrence Fishburne. So expect lots of action, espionage, intrigue, and plenty of corpses filled with hot lead.
That wraps up our list of 15 little-known John Wick factoids! What are you most excited about seeing in John Wick Chapter 2? Tell us in the comments!
John Wick Chapter 2 will hit theaters on February 10, 2017.