What Makes You Tick, Mr Wick? Well … You’re Nostalgic, You’re Slick!
After avenging his dog’s death (a final gift from his wife) in Chapter 1, assassinating a member of the High Table in Chapter 2, John Wick is now excommunicado with a bounty of $14 million on his head in Chapter 3: Parabellum.
For you curious minds out there, Parabellum is Latin for prepare for war.
Si vis pacem, para bellum — If you want peace, prepare for war
Despite being an uber-stylish action film, primarily set in present day New York, the John Wick movies carry a certain old-world charm that consciously, or otherwise, invoke a sense of nostalgia in our minds. From old-fashioned values to the art design to the action choreography, there’s something in every scene that reminds us of the past.
Here’s a checklist:
- Spaghetti Westerns. Check. √
A man of his word, John Wick stands for commitment, trust, loyalty, and integrity. Unless provoked, he avoids confrontation at all costs. An enigmatic character we know very little about. The same is true of other characters too—Winston, the owner of the Continental Hotel or Charon the concierge at the Continental Hotel for whom actions speak louder than words. These character traits are a throwback to the Westerns from the 60s like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and A Fistful of Dollars.
- Vintage Ambiance. Check. √
Although set primarily in New York, the John Wick mood is predominantly classical. Fine artwork, paintings, and furniture adorn the spaces of the Continental Hotel where most of the drama unfolds. Right from the concierge to the bellboy, from the driver to the seamstress, everyone is impeccably dressed, methodical, and disciplined like they walked straight out of a Hollywood classic. But what really draws us into this anachronistic world is how the administrative affairs of the Continental Hotel are executed by women operators in vintage uniforms typing commands on outdated computer systems, manually dialing numbers on wired rotary phones, or bookkeeping using papers and files.
- Martial Arts & Hand Weapons. Check. √
At the surface, the action in John Wick appears slick and stylish, which it definitely is—people in formal attire, doting guns and sophisticated equipment wreck mayhem all over. But look a little deeper and the vintage nods to the action genre are unmistakable. Be it the spaghetti western standoffs or the John Woo style of chaotic action, you’ll see many long shots with a steady-camera without the interference of multiple cuts that make the action sequences a pleasure to watch.
Keanu Reeves’ martial arts style, which combines martial arts like jiu jitsu, and krav maga with hand combat, is worth drawing comparisons to yesteryear action star Steven Seagal.
Remember the simultaneously grotesque and comical Oldboy corridor sequence? The scene where John Wick fights multiple armed henchmen with knives, swords, and axes is a clear nod to the Korean classic.
- Mario Bros. Check. √
It’s not just the Mario Brothers who use gold coins but also John Wick and the entire syndicate of assassins. Believe it or not, John pays a gold coin to a cab driver for dropping his dog to the Continental Hotel. Beat that!
Like in the vintage Atari games Double Dragon or Final Fight, John too is one man versus many; the higher the stakes the harder each level gets.
Yet, undeniably Parabellum stands on its own by creatively reviving the almost dead action genre in Hollywood by infusing elements of Neo-noir, martial arts, emotions, character arcs and minimalist storytelling into the narrative that leaves a lot to the audiences imagination, so much so that the John Wick films now have a cult following.
Recently, I saw this meme on WhatsApp.
My first reaction: “This is John Wick!”
On second thoughts, I realize that this could be anyone—you, me, or our good old’ neighbor taking the dog out for a walk. The old adage that a dog is a man’s best friend increasingly holds true in a world where human relationships are failing and virtual relationships are driving people insane. Perhaps a trustworthy dog who expects nothing but a nice petting at the end of the day is really the way to true happiness.
John Wick, we are with you. Cheers!