John Wick – Style before story

So this was a film that had been recommended to me as an action thriller fan, and when I saw it was recently added to Sky Movies, I was quick to snap up the opportunity to watch it. The poster looked promising, and the plot summary sounded enticing. But it didn’t live up to what it promised – needless to say, it wasn’t exactly Keanu Reeves’s finest hour.

I mean, it had promise, but somehow didn’t live up to that. The film began pretty well – with your kick-ass assassin protagonist returning to the game for vengeance, your typical villains who established themselves as little more than two dimensional arseholes within about 10 minutes, and it was all set up for the odds to be stacked completely against John Wick. But it didn’t really go anywhere from there. I’m all for re-using a formula if it’s been proved successful, but John Wick (Stahelski:2014) seemed to rely too heavily on this formula to let the story take off, and I wasn’t thrilled by it.

**SPOILER FREE POST**

The action sequences were done so that they were filmed almost in a single shot, making them fluid rather than using fast-paced cutting. While it was done to be stylistic and different to the usual conventions, it only served to make the sequences feel false and staged, and it played havoc with the pacing of the scene itself as well. They became so much less compelling to watch. EDIT: For a lesson in how to shoot action sequences that work in a single shot, see London Has Fallen (Najafi:2016).

And then there were the subtitles. So normally subtitles would appear along with the corresponding line, central, at the bottom of the screen in white. We’re all familiar with this. But that was not the case in John Wick. The subtitles faded in and out from left to right as the line was spoken, and popped up wherever there was a bit of space in the frame, rather than just at the bottom where you’d expect to see them. There was also one word in nearly every other line of dialogue that was highlighted in some way, by being a different font style, a bigger font, capitalised, italicised, and a different colour (and the colour wasn’t consistent with each time this happened either), which was extremely distracting. Now maybe this would have been acceptable had the motives been clever, and the highlighted words were significant in some way, but THEY WEREN’T. It just made the subtitles look unprofessional, even laughable. Quite frankly, they were terrible.

But for me the biggest problem was still the story, or lack thereof. It was formulaically the same as what you’d expect to see in any returning action hero film à la Bruce Willis/Jason Statham/Sylvester Stallone etc. The villains of the piece were Russian (of course) and worked as a family unit too, with no complexity whatsoever. Alfie Allen’s character actually seemed to have been lifted directly from his character in Game of Thrones, Theon Greyjoy: with a horribly arrogant attitude towards anything with a pulse, issues about being disliked and disregarded by his father, even down to the act of trying to impress his father and only making a bad situation worse.

And to top it all off, the characters were so weak that there wasn’t anyone I actually supported. Okay, I quite wanted John Wick to triumph, just to show them who was boss, but I didn’t really care about him. Of course, film can be appreciated as an art form, and in these cases it doesn’t always call for your most complex characters or emotional investment, but John Wick isn’t meant as an art form film. For me, film is a mode of storytelling first and foremost, and anything stylistic comes second to that, especially in this genre. It just lacked someone to root for, someone who I cared about to take me through the story. In fact, there was only one character who I really had any emotional investment in at all, and that was Wick’s four-legged friend Daisy, but we all knew where that was going from the first 30 seconds of seeing her.

To round up then. Ridiculous subtitles overlaying poor action sequences, all backgrounded by a mediocre story that should have been led by the dog. If you’re looking for an exciting, engaging action thriller to watch any time soon, do yourself a favour and steer clear of this one.

 

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Author: camillehatcher

Bookworm, film fanatic, quote master, and apprentice wordsmith.

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