2014 saw the release of what many expected to be a run-of-the-mill action comeback vehicle, John Wick. But the film, starring Keanu Reeves and co-directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, gave nearly all of us whiplash: it was 101 minutes of brutal headshots, gorgeous action choreography and righteous revenge that flew by faster than you could say “baba yaga.”
The unexpected nature of the first film made the hype for its sequel all the more exciting. John Wick: Chapter 2 finally came out last month and lived up to its predecessor in nearly every aspect, somehow managing to up the action and visual flair even more.
John Wick, the 2014 film, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s the result of a number of factors, and has a specific place in the lineage of action filmmaking. Stahelski and Leitch were former stuntmen and stunt coordinators on an enormous list of films (The Hunger Games, The Wolverine, Tron: Legacy, The Expendables and 300 are just some), and their knowledge made the action more exciting and authentic.
The film draws on a number of action traditions, including the iconic John Woo gun-fu style, The Matrix’s surreal time bending, the ultra-choreographed The Raid series, and even the color and drama of graphic novels.
To say that John Wick is a wholly inventive film would be inaccurate, and would miss the point: John Wick is a beautiful cohesion of every exciting action style that the directors wanted to include, and the film’s crucial glue is its star, Keanu Reeves, an action veteran with almost no equal.
But what I’d like to argue is this: the way the movie deeply resonated with audiences was not overlooked by producers across the industry, and the result is a slowly-but-surely growing list of films I’d like to call: The John Wickiverse.
The first two films in the Wickiverse are, of course, John Wick and John Wick: Chapter 2. But the Wickiverse’s expansion begins this summer with co-director David Leitch’s first solo film, Atomic Blonde.
Atomic Blonde stars Charlize Theron as an MI6 spy in 1989 Berlin. According to the marketing and trailers, the fun action sensibility of Wick is clearly still present. Theron smokes in a neon-red bar that could be The Continental, and performs high-flying, complicated stunts, including one with a yellow cable and a window, that would look right at home in John Wick.
From the outset, the concept of a female John Wick was something that our cinematic landscape desperately needed, and it looks as though Atomic Blonde will be that movie. Leitch’s directing will ensure that it shares a style with Wick, although I don’t doubt that it will be its own creature as well.
Installment number four in the Wickiverse was announced just this week. According to Deadline, John Wick: Chapter 2 co-star Common will headline his own revenge drama, entitled Quick Draw. It’ll be directed by comedy writer Harris Goldberg, but is described as featuring “hyper-intense shootouts, choreographed car chases and hand-to-hand combat.” Sound familiar?
Common, already an accomplished rapper and Oscar winner for the song “Glory” from Selma, has been on the acting come-up. John Wick: Chapter 2 and Suicide Squad were his biggest recent roles, and now he’ll be the star of his own film, which sounds undeniably a little Wick-y. Quick Draw also continues the trend of diversifying the Wickiverse’s protagonists, verifiable proof that the Wickiverse is the future and everything else is the past.
Going forward, here is the official criteria for a film to be considered part of the Wickiverse (at least one of the following must be true):
- Direct John Wick sequels
- Action movies by Stahelski or Leitch
- Action movies starring actors from the John Wick films (I’m pulling for a Lance Reddick one, personally)
- Action movies that attempt to replicate the John Wick combination of intricate choreography, dramatic colors/lighting, revenge storylines, and, hopefully, puppies.
An important question you may be asking: do all Wickiverse films share a literal universe, like the way the Marvel Cinematic Universe operates? It’s hard for a mere writer like myself to speculate. I’d love to believe that while Atomic Blonde’s Lorraine Broughton is kicking ass in Berlin in 1989, a 25-year-old John Wick is earning his stripes in the New York crime world. It takes a little more imagination to posit that Quick Draw will be a closer look at the Common’s John Wick character Cassian, but who am I to assume? Maybe Cassian goes by many names.
Where does that leave us, then, with future Wickiverse installments? The possibility still exists for a John Wick: Chapter 3, although nothing has been confirmed. Stahelski’s next project is going to be a reboot of Highlander, which is a pretty dramatic shift in subject matter, but could certainly still carry the Wickiverse torch if the tone’s right.
But for the time being, the Wickiverse is in good hands with Atomic Blonde, which premiered last week at SXSW and will get a wide release this summer. If it does well, and the John Wick brand continues to strengthen, we’ll only see the expansion of the formal Wickiverse, which would be great news for moviegoers. Only time will tell, though.