Keanu Reeves

John Wick Breaks An Origin Story Movie Rule (& That’s Why It’s Great)

John Wick introduced its titular anti-hero with the opposite of a traditional origin story, and this strategy has helped the franchise stand out.

The John Wick franchise has avoided a standard origin story from its title character, which has been a great advantage to the series. The first trendsetting John Wick was a major sleeper hit in 2014 and kickstarted a new phase of Keanu Reeves’ career. The success of John Wick led to two sequels, with John Wick: Chapter 4 on the way and a spin-off TV series titled The Continental also in the works.

In the series, Reeves’ John Wick is introduced as a seemingly unassuming man. After an attack on his house that leaves his beloved dog dead, John embarks on a revenge mission, and his attackers come to learn the terrifying truth about him. Far from being just another guy living in an affluent Long Island neighborhood, John is actually a retired assassin. Not only that, but he’s among the most legendary hitmen in the world, known by the nickname “Baba Yaga” or “The Bogeyman.”

While the John Wick series never hid his assassin past from audiences in its marketing, the franchise has still played things close to the vest on John’s background. Not only did John’s debut go a very different route from an origin story, but the films have avoided explicit details about him beyond what is necessary. Far from being a hindrance on John’s character development, this has actually been one of the great strengths of the John Wick franchise.

John Wick Doesn’t Have A Traditional Origin Story

The first John Wick is the complete inverse of an origin story. When the film begins, John is already retired from the assassin game and just trying to live a quiet life with his wife. The audience isn’t told what led John to leave his assassin life behind, but the losses of his wife and his dog reawaken the killer he was. Unlike most world-building franchise starters, John Wick completely bypassed introducing audiences to its main character to instead see him coming out of retirement with his famous declaration: “Yeah, I’m thinking I’m back!

While the John Wick sequels revealed more about their protagonist, neither relied on flashbacks or time jumps. Instead, details of John’s past were told on the fly, John either being pulled into new missions against his will or meeting scorned friends from his past like Sofia (Halle Berry). The John Wick graphic novel was where the franchise really went into John’s origins. Relying on a tie-in graphic novel for the main series’ backstory is not how most cinematic universes show their main character’s origins, but John Wick going against that usual trend has worked out for it in every way possible.

Why John Wick’s Origin Story Rule Break Makes The World Better

The reveal of John Wick as the feared assassin “Baba Yaga” succinctly relayed his legendary status as he was walking back into his old life. The John Wick franchise also took the approach of slowly unveiling how its world operates. Rather than an introductory reveal early on, John Wick instead presented a slow drip feed of the most relevant information about John and his world intermittently throughout the franchise. This worked far better for the John Wick franchise over a more conventional origin story for a number of reasons.

By positioning John as an already mythical figure in the assassin world, John Wick created an aura of mystery and intrigue around him. This approach planted a seed of anticipation for what John Wick on the job would look like. John’s connection to the assassin world also meant that as his story was being gradually unveiled, so too was the overarching John Wick universe. As such, the world he lives in where gold coins are the highest currency has been just one step behind him at all times. This left the John Wick franchise with something new and unexpected around the corner in every movie. The reveal of assassin “markers,” the assassin ring disguised as New York City’s homeless population, the “de-consecration” of a Continental hotel – every aspect of the John Wick universe comes as a surprise to audiences, making the series a constant guessing game.

How John Wick’s Action Is Improved By Its Origin Story Approach

The John Wick movies are also well-known for their elaborate action sequences. Indeed, John Wick has grown into one of the most beloved current action movie franchises, each new film combining gun fu, car stunts, and many different disciplines of martial arts. The unconventional approach John Wick takes to revealing John and the world he inhabits has also elevated its action scenes. An element of that is in John’s skill set being partially predicated on his quick thinking. John’s origin in the first film revealed that, while he’s frequently in over his head, he’s a very adaptable combatant. Getting a sample of that in the first John Wick has led to the series going bigger in the sequel’s action scenes. The legend of John Wick precedes him, but the John Wick franchise never fails to challenge him.

John Wick‘s storytelling has also benefited its action scenes in another way. John’s allies who lend him support and his enemies are usually even more mysterious to audiences than he is. This makes the skills they bring against him an ongoing gimmick to create new challenges for John to face. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum in particular really accomplished this with the team of Shinobi assassins led by Zero (Mark Dacascos) bringing Ninjutsu skills and weapons against him. Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman also brought Silat techniques and weapons against John in Parabellum, adding a whole new dimension to the film’s fight scenes. John Wick withholding a typical origin story from the films means that both new friends and foes alike bring their own surprises with them every time. The fact that John Wick: Chapter 4 will include a who’s who of martial arts stars has naturally left minds reeling at the nature of their roles and what they’ll add to the series.

With John Wick: Chapter 4 on the way and John Wick: Chapter 5 to follow, the franchise might eventually indulge in flashing back to his early life. The John Wick graphic novel has already revealed tidbits about his beginnings, so the main series could fill in some of the remaining blanks. Still, the John Wick movies have not followed an origin story mandate in introducing him to audiences around the world. Judging from the box office success and general reception of the continuously expanding John Wick movie franchise, the results of that strategy speak for themselves.

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