**Editor’s Note: This is a piece written my former TGS member, Brett Stiles, who has now moved on to greener pastures.**
John Wick was a better movie than most people give it credit for. This article will break down the movie to show why it was a great movie, deserving of another installment.
When writing anything, such as a comic, novel, film, anything that tells a story – most creators follow what’s called a Hero’s Journey. This term was made famous by a story called Hero with a Thousand Faces. A Hero’s Journey is a common template for a protagonist as they progress through a narrative. A great example of following the template, almost exactly, is Star Wars. Episodes 4, 5, and 6 are great visual representations of this template in action. Today though, we will talk about the movie John Wick and how it follows the core of this template. Let’s break it down and actually look at why this movie was well done according to a Hero’s Journey.
The bare basics for a Hero’s journey looks like this:
In narratology and comparative mythology, the monomyth, or the hero’s journey, is the common template of a broad category of tales that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, and in a decisive crisis wins a victory, and then comes home changed or transformed.
For reference of what I will be following, please click this link, but all you need to know is that we will break John Wick down into three parts that are the core of the Hero’s Journey template.
The hero or protagonist lives in the ordinary world and receives a call to go on an adventure. The hero is reluctant to follow the call, but is helped by a mentor figure.
We are introduced to John Wick at a funeral. Through context clues and dialogue we find out he recently lost his wife to sickness, who he loved dearly. Through the course of the intro we see Wick in the immediate aftermath of the funeral as he shows normal human emotion for such a loss. He is then surprised with a last gift from his dead wife to help him through these tough times. A beagle puppy. We see Wick try and take care of the dog through a normal day as he tries to adjust to life without his wife. This beginning shows us John Wick living in an “ordinary” world. A life without anything we common folk would see as out of the ordinary.
The calling happens when he runs into Iosef, the son of Viggo, the head of a Russian crime syndicate. This meeting between Wick and Iosef eventually leads to Wick’s beagle puppy being killed, and his car to be stolen.
This sets the “treasure” for Wick, which will be discussed later in the article.
Iosef learns through his father, Viggo that Wick was one of their best hitmen, and when Wick wanted to retire, leaving the lifestyle of a hitman forever, Viggo gave Wick what he called an “impossible task”. Wick completed the task in a single night. This sets the narrative that Wick would be reluctant to go back into the world of assassins.
This sets us up for part two.
The Initiation section begins with the hero then traversing the threshold to the unknown or “special world”, where he faces tasks or trials, either alone or with the assistance of helpers.
The hero eventually reaches “the innermost cave” or the central crisis of his adventure, where he must undergo “the ordeal” where he overcomes the main obstacle or enemy, undergoing “apotheosis” and gaining his reward (a treasure or “elixir”).
The hero must then return to the ordinary world with his reward. He may be pursued by the guardians of the special world, or he may be reluctant to return, and may be rescued or forced to return by intervention from the outside.
Here is the bulk of the movie.
Wick has decided to enter the world of the hitman to gain his “treasure”. In this case, his treasure is not an item, but rather revenge. His trials and tribulations are showcased by the waves of mobsters that he seamlessly disposes of through out the whole movie in order to get to Iosef.
Wick’s personal apotheosis comes when he realizes that he just isn’t visiting the hitman world anymore, his apotheosis is made apparent when he exclaims:
“People keep asking if I’m back, and I haven’t really had an answer, but yeah, I’m thinking I’m back.”
We get to the “innermost cave” where Wick, through interrogation of Viggo, finally catches and kills Iosef. Thinking his ordeal is done and he can return to a more ordinary life, he discovers that Marcus, one of his friends and allies throughout the movie, has been killed by Viggo and his remaining mobsters. he is lured back into the hitman world. This signifies the last part of the Initiation, being pursued by the guardians of the special world.
The conclusion of the Initiation section ends when Wick and Viggo fight on a dock, where Wick eventually kills Viggo, concluding the Initiation part.
In the Return section, the hero again traverses the threshold between the worlds, returning to the ordinary world with the treasure or elixir he gained, which he may now use for the benefit of his fellow man. The hero himself is transformed by the adventure and gains wisdom or spiritual power over both worlds.
Not much time is spent here because the movie doesn’t need to. The return back to the ordinary world happens instantly the moment right after he kills Viggo. Wick, who is severely injured, finds an animal clinic where he acquires supplies to treat his wounds, from there he finds a pit bull that he rescues from being euthanized. This act shows him returning to the normal world as he replaces his dog that was killed at the beginning of the movie, but this also signifies his metamorphosis as this dog is a grown pit bull, a big difference from the puppy beagle that he had lost at the beginning.
Overall the bones of a Hero’s Journey is there. The movie does a great job showcasing that core template, but not necessarily following it in the conventional sense. The movie does a great job of sprinkling in the raw emotion of anger based in love and loss. With the human need for justice/revenge, you get to witness the satisfaction of John Wick’s retribution violently unfold.
For anyone interested, John Wick: Chapter 2 is scheduled to come out February 10, 2017. Here is the preview.