John Wick might be Keanu Reeves’ prized possession, but his ’90s thriller with Sandra Bullock is the film that cemented him as an action star and opened him up to the gilded doors of recognition.
Chad Stahelski’s iconic John Wick franchise has forged Reeves as a legendary action figure, symbolizing a twisted blend of dark suits and lethal charm. This is also why it’s baffling just how different his rendition of an action-hero is as Wick as opposed to Speed‘s Jack Traven. Where one is all quiet intensity and composed danger, the other is an ambitious man with bouts of impulsivity and fury. John McClane, that you?
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The Link Between Keanu Reeves’ Jack Traven and Bruce Willis’ John McClane
Jan de Bont’s Speed was a game changer for both its leading stars, Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, who tasted the sweetness of stardom upon its release. The action/thriller went on to amass a phenomenal $350 million at the box office against a production budget of merely $30-37 million. Raving reviews by critics and the audience, along with 2 Academy Award wins, all further highlight the film’s triumph.
Much of its success though, wouldn’t have been possible had the film’s script not received Joss Whedon’s incredibly helpful insights and much-needed changes. As it turns out, “98.9% of the dialogue” was penned by the 58-year-old filmmaker, as remarked by Speed’s screenwriter Graham Yost in a 2003 interview. This retooling of the script resulted in rewiring the characters along with their dialogue, especially Reeves’ Jack Traven, who was originally slated to be a more volatile protagonist whose personality reeked of sass and smack-talk.
As it happened, Reeves’ character had a more John McClane-esque air about him, the quintessential action hero from Bruce Willis’ 1988 classic, which might explain why Speed can also be looked at as a Die Hard ripoff. In fact, that lingering thread between the two is why the Constantine star had initially frowned at the script and demanded it be altered. Enter Whedon.
“The biggest change for me came from Keanu,” The Avengers director told The Huffington Post. “The whole ‘Pop quiz, hot shot,’ was not me. There was this idea of Jack as this cop on the edge, who plays by his own rules, you know, ‘He’s a maverick! He’s out of control!’ Apart from Die Hard, which really made room for a thoughtful action hero, everybody [in action movies] had been that sort of thing.”
And while some of it did end up appearing in the final product, Whedon for the most part, helped accentuate the film by smoothening the script’s choppy edges. On a more unfortunate note though, Whedon barely got credit for any of it.
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Why Joss Whedon Didn’t Receive the Rightful Recognition
Save for the film’s poster that credited Whedon in a tiny script scrawled at the bottom, the filmmaker was robbed of his well-deserved acknowledgment, rendering him “devastated.”
“I was proud of it, I worked hard on it, I had a really great time and I worked with really cool people,” he said. “But I did not get a credit on it. The studio gave me one, but then the Writers Guild of America took it away, and I was pretty devastated. I have the only poster with my credit on it.”
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Owing to the WGA bylaws, Whedon was thus deprived of his fair share of recognition. It didn’t matter that he rewrote practically the entirety of the dialogue, the laws only focused on the contributions of the original screenwriter.
“They didn’t think I made big enough changes to the plot,” he recalled. “I actually did a lot of overhaul, but much of it was to a later draft, so it went back to what Graham originally had.”
Speed is currently available on Disney+ for streaming.