John Wick and the Lost Art of Violence

Most of us are cowards. We take shit every day. We have never been in a fight. We sustain ourselves on revenge fantasies about what we would do if that guy “kept talking for one more second.” We are the opposite of a Fight Club speech. We tweet at strangers that we would be too afraid to make eye contact with on the street. We work jobs where our boss can deny us taking a piss. We nod. We avert our gaze. We mumble some bullshit. We honk our horn from the confines of our safe house on wheels.

There have been studies done that show the majority of people wouldn’t stop if they saw a woman being attacked.  This is why we flock to action movies.

We would like to think that if the bank we are standing in was robbed we would be the guy to save the day. In reality we would hit the ground so fast and hard our face would break.

Politicians, who have never shot guns and who have done everything in their power to send children to fight in wars they dodged at that age, lecture us after mass shootings….

“Well if I was there with my gun…”

If you were there what?

More people would have been shot at the hands of your old-man-jitter-fingers? 

Trump, our President, tweeted a declaration of war at Iran this week, like the country’s Twitter account was a person who spilled a beer on him. What would he really do face to face with a member of Islamic Revolutionary Guard?

It’s always the weak that need to announce their strength. 

We love action movies cause it makes us feel like the hero we don’t think we could be.

It’s why I loved action movies as a kid. I would get bullied at school then go home and watch Van Damn movies, and arthouse flicks like Surf Ninjas and I thought I could do anything. We all like to think we are Steven Seagal in the movies when in real life, we are just Steven Seagal in real life.

Action movies are how we can vicariously live out our John Mcclain fantasies while never facing danger. They are an important part of our culture. They seem silly, we watch them on sick days, and on airplanes but they also fill a very primal part of our brain that doesn’t get a lot of play.

But then something happened in the last decade. A lot of these action movies stopped…having action.

They had actors who couldn’t really act, try to act. They had weird story lines and unnecessary twists written by writers who couldn’t really write. And all that unwanted bullshit took precious time away from what we came here to see – a fucking fist fight.

Sometimes, movies went the opposite way. Let’s call it the ‘Michael Bay way.’ Huge effects but who gives a shit. Sure there was violence, but you couldn’t really tell what was happening and you didn’t really care. It was like a child of rich divorced parents was just given a bunch of money and cocaine. Like Millhouse driving a race car around his house when his parents divorced in The Simpsons.

Then came a movie called The Raid. The Raid didn’t have a lot of talking because The Raid wasn’t even in fucking English. What the movie did have however was non-stop violence. Such violence. Crazy violence.

But here’s the thing. It wasn’t gratuitous. It wasn’t wide-eyed and crazed Millhouse. It was artful. It told the story through its action scenes. It has redemption, love, and every other piece of a good story, told through kicks to the head. 

It’s no wonder that Derek Kolstad, creator of the John Wick series, sited it as a major influence in a random interview he did years ago that I found when frantically Googling anything this man said after seeing John Wick 3 for the second time in two days.

John Wick brings us back to a better time. A time when a simple hero was wronged and wants to do good.

Let’s look at the plot.

Scariest dude in the world loses wife.
Dead wife sends cutest dog ever to teach scary dude how to love.
Dog gets murdered by FUCKING THEON GREYJOY.

And then there is no waiting. He just starts fucking killing everyone.

At one point, the father of Theon Greyjoy calls Wick on the phone and says:
“Let us not resort to our baser instincts and act like civilized men.”
Wick hangs up.

YES.

There will be no civility within these movies. There will only vengeance.

Wondering if there are overly clever catch phrases? NOPE. Right before Wick murders one of Theon’s goons in a sink, he says:
“You stole my car. You killed my dog.”
Fuck you. Dead.  

In the third movie, the big clever line is:

“Guns. Lots of guns.”

Glorious.

There is no convoluted anything, just a man trying to be good and fucking up people in the process. Something we all wish we could do.

Like The Raid the plot is simple. A man trying to do right by the people/dog he loved.

Sure this movie has other shit, cool world building, a hotel of assassins that acts as base in a game of murder-tag, a bald adjudicator lady, Laurence Fishbourne screaming, “ I AM THE THRONE,” but, and I say this with all due respect, it doesn’t matter. 

It’s just cool filler so Wick can catch his breath and then kill more people in unspeakable ways. World building doesn’t get applause breaks in this theater – it doesn’t help us forget why we were upset earlier in the day.

You know what does?

John Wick killing a guy with a knife then pulling the knife out of that guy to kill another guy with said knife - oh my god. It is pure poetry with knifes. FUCK YOU ALL OTHER ACTION MOVIES.

The theater was laugh-gasping during all of this. Our fight-or-flight instincts going off while sitting in comfy recliner chairs. If you weren’t clapping you were wrong.

We watch John Wick not run away from fights like we do, but instead charge through double doors to tackle two men off of motorcycles that were supposed to be there to kill him!

The atmosphere is booming. Music is blaring throughout these fights. Timed perfectly, it pulses to the rhythm of the carnage. You find yourself literally tapping along to a brutal act of revenge.

It’s a movie you have to see in the theaters. To be surrounded by fucking glorious nerds. We are all so happy to be there. People are laughing in anticipation. No hipster bullshit. No talking loudly about when the next Wes Anderson movie comes out so our seatmate doesn’t think we are one of those weird action movie dudes who speeds out of the parking lot like an idiot after seeing Fast and the Furious. Cool does not belong in this theater.

The crowd doesn’t just applaud violence though.

In the first fight, John Wick slays a giant with a book. Great, right? But it’s what comes before and after that which tells the story of John Wick.

As he runs through the rain with his pitbull (a perfect metaphor for Wick - misunderstood, kind, but could rip your heart out), he gets in a cab to go to the New York Public Library. Realizing he doesn’t have enough time before he is excommunicated (NY traffic, amiright?), he pays off the driver to get his dog to safety and he is off to run in the rain alone to the library. 

He then waits in line at the library to ask his question. He could murder everyone in there but he is not a bully. He will wait his turn.

He finds the book. And inside there is a picture of him and his wife from better times, a bunch of coin things that again, I have no idea what they mean cause it doesn’t concern me, and some cross thing.

Then a genetically modified giant Adam Driver shows up, talks some shit, quotes Dante, and Wick kisses the memory of his wife before baseball sliding into this towering monster and hitting him in his giant balls with a book on Russian literature.

I want to rewind it in the theater. It brings me back to childhood when, after watching my Van Damn movies, I would rewind them and then fast forward to my favorite fights and bask in its asskicking again and again and again.

Giant Adam Driver dies. The theater gasps. But this isn’t the biggest reaction of the scene.

After John killed the shit out of the giant he calmly, and now with a new knife wound, walks back down the aisle and returns the book to its proper place. The crowd goes wild.

It applauds order and politeness after seeing a man get his neck broken with a goddamn book. We aren’t animals even when we are.

Speaking of animals, did you know in the next scene John Wick uses a horse to kick a man to death?!?!?! THIS MOVIE IS PERFECT!

There is something relatable to Wick’s relationship with animals. When he speaks to humans he is short and stoic. With animals, he knows just the right place to pet them and the right tone to use.

He is every awkward “us.” He gets along with animals more than humans. He is me at a party finding the snacks and the dog before making eye contact with any person.

I am sad at funerals. But I would burn this city to the ground for my cat.

Even before Laurence Fishbourne gets cut up he looks to his baby bird and says, “Avert your eyes, my sweet. The king is dead. Long live the king.”

His possible last words are to a bird. Fuck you, UCB superstar Jason Mantzoukas.

This movie is what America craves, violence towards humans and love towards animals.

It is not unwanted remakes or action stars giving boring monologues. It is all of our primal IDs.

Then the movie goes from crazy to batshit fast.

The next fight somehow ends up in a store that sells only guns, knives, swords, and an ax we see land in someone’s head like a Super Bowl touchdown pass.  The fight literally has them breaking into cabinets to get more knives to throw at each other. The theater is cheering like we just landed on the moon.

John Wick takes a break and briefly goes to visits Angelica Huston (?!?!?!?!) who reminds us that art is pain, and questions Wick by saying, “All of this for a puppy?” after he just launched an axe into a man’s head.

John responds what all of us are thinking, “He was more than just a puppy.”

It’s true. The puppy represented hope, and love, and loss, and also fuck yeah, it was a puppy. Who kills a puppy?

The main bad guy in John Wick 3 is named Zero and is played by Mark Dacascos. You may remember this actor from Only the Strong an INSANE martial arts movie made in the heyday of martial arts movies. It’s about a Brazilian dance-fighting instructor who somehow moves into a town where all the drug dealers are ALSO BRAZILIAN DANCE FIGHT MASTERS and they DANCE FIGHT! 

He is a fan of Wick’s. He wants his glory. He shaves his head while waiting to fight. He fights for vanity. He talks to Wick like anyone in LA would talk to a celebrity. It’s sad and he’s a step away from asking him to read his spec script. He is also more of a “cat person” then a dog person. And as we know, cats are kinda dicks.

He is the Trump tweet. He is the boss denying you the piss then pretending to be your friend. He masks his fear with violence.

Don’t ever be afraid the big dude wearing a tap out shirt talking shit at the bar. Fear the quiet guy at the bar reading the book not trying to talk shit.

Zero’s complete opposite is Halle Berry, who plays Sofia. She is a dog person She is reading the book. She is a god and her two dogs should be the first dogs to win a joint Oscar. They wear tiny bulletproof vests and bite men in the dick. 

Similar to Wick’s narrative, right before Sofia unloads hell upon her enemies, we learn just enough about her to make these fights matter. She fights for the love of her dogs. She fights for the memories of her daughter.

No weird twists - she doesn’t double cross John, she doesn’t turn out to be his lover, or the secret mother to his old dog. No bullshit writing. She was hurt and now she is about to hurt others. Yay yay yay!

She doesn’t want a fight though. That’s what makes the violence matter.

John also doesn’t want a fight.

The two dogs don’t want a fight, probably just pats.

But in the end, there is going there has to be a fight.

What happens next, in short:

They meet with her old boss.
They just want to talk.
He gets cocky.
He wants her dog.
She says no.
The theater panics.
He shoots her dog.
I panic.
The dog is ok.
I am ok.
It was a warning shot.
I’m not really ok.
It hit the dog in his tiny vest.
The dog is pissed.
Sofia is pissed.
I am pissed.
Wick looks concerned.
He is soon to be pissed.

The next lines are so self aware and glorious that my love of everyone involved with these movies skyrockets.

Wick: “Don’t.”
Sofia: “He shot my dog.”
Wick: “I get it.”
Crowd: “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!”

And away we go.

They are shooting everyone and stabbing others. The dog b-lines right into this guy’s dick and is pretty much ripping his dick out in front of a room of applauding adults.

These dogs are everything and should get their own spinoff show called Dick Biters.

They don’t stop biting dicks. Every time you forget about them because you are watching Sofia hit-rolling jiujitsu moves before shooting a guy in the head one of the dogs will come sprinting from off-camera to bite another dick.

I am IN IT. I tell myself the dogs are avenging Daisy. That they are avenging every dog who has been hurt by a man too chicken-shit to pick on someone their own size, that they are avenging all of my bad life choices. This is what an action movie should do to you.

At one point, one of the dogs jumps off Halle Berry’s back and scales 15 feet in the air to, you guessed it… bite another guy in the dick.

It’s heaven, and nuance has no place in this beautiful hell. 

They escape and Wick makes it to see the head of The High Table after a stroll through the desert that almost kills him.  He is asked why he is doing all of this and responds, “to remember my wife Helen.”

He’s not even trying to rescue his daughter with his “special set of skills.” He is just doing this for a memory to be sad. What a fucking man.

The high table gives him an option. Kill his friend Winston and live to remember his dead wife or die. Oof.

For the first time his morality is tested. You convince yourself it’s cool. Winston is shady. Let Wick survive so he can live a sad life of remembering his dead dog and wife.  He’s earned it!

He shows up in NYC ready to kill his friend. He’s wearing more of a bad guy suit. But then right away we see he is still decent. He is still John Wick.

He spots Zero in Grand Central Station surrounded by self important commuters who are too busy to notice multiple stabbings taking place within their reach. They rush towards each other. They are inches away from another stabbing until a line of school children march in between them. Wick stops. Then Zero stops by default.

“That’s why you’re special John Wick, I wouldn’t have stopped.”

Wick slits another throat (awesome) and disappears.

I want to keep talking about every scene in this movie but Jesus Christ this is already a three thousand word piece that literally no one asked for so lets skip around and wrap this party of violence up.

Wick confronts Winston who accepts that he could be killed or maybe is playing John and tells him, “I would rather die at the hand of a friend than an enemy.”  

For the first time Wick is talking like the man he was before he met his wife. Talking about the table, and serving them. Winston plays his last card.

“You shoot me you sell your soul. Do you want to die as the last man someone sees before death or do you die as a man who loved and was loved by his wife ?”

That is the only way to defeat John Wick. With humanity. We want to believe that the most violent among us are good. They will protect us not use their power for evil.

John Wick gives us that, agrees and then asks for….
Guns.
Lots of guns.

This movie is an ode to heroes. It’s a tribute to the action movies that made us less afraid. That made us feel like we could stick up for ourselves. Or at the very least someone would be there to stick up for us. To train us. To make us feel not so alone.

They say if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, but that’s exactly what hundreds of action movies have done over the last decade and this is the rebuilding of the 7 kingdoms.

In one of the last scenes Wick ascends the steps to fight a higher caliber of bad guy.  Like a video game. Like Bruce Lee in game of death. Like an old school fucking god damn action movie the way it should be.

He is fighting two men (ONE FROM THE RAID) and both are fans of his. They help him up when he gets knocked down and are slightly disappointed he is slower than before. Wick starts to believe it. Until he doesn’t.

He gets up and yells, as if to say, “still got it motherfuckers.” As if to say, this is what happens when you talk shit. As if to say, I am just like you. You, the audience. You, who has to fight every day. You who doubts himself. Who could be great, and brave, and love, and survive unimaginable pain and loss.

You are me. And I am fucking hurt but I am getting back up to fuck up a bald cat loving motherfucker and you will too…..

….Or maybe he was just kicking some ass.