John Wick and its sequel are proving that original properties have their place in a marketplace crowded with recognizable characters and worlds. In fact, the two John Wick films have accomplished some things that the two big comic book houses, Marvel and DC, have not quite been able to do in recent years. Maybe these giants need to take a look at the little guy because John Wick could teach Marvel and DC a thing or two.
Superhero movies are big, blustery affairs. They are predicated upon enormous set pieces that often involve perilous destruction and cartoonish brawling. The John Wick movies know how to streamline their action whilst never sacrificing how impacting and cool it is. As fun as the airport fight in Captain America: Civil War may be, it’s still an unwieldy pixel mash. And the DC Extended Universe movies? Those action scenes are gratuitous with a capital G.
The tight and stripped down action of the John Wick movies prove that you don’t have to let all of the toys out of the toybox. You can craft great action without every big sequence needing to feel like it’s coming from an opera.
The John Wick films are excellent when it comes to world-building. So much of what makes these films a blast is a colorful universe they inhabit. And they present that universe in visual ways. Marvel and DC films often have to slow their stories down while someone explains some big mythological concept.
For example, in John Wick: Chapter 2, we see how a “contract” is put out on someone. Instead of some character telling the audience how this is down, we see the process and learn how everything works visually. We don’t need the story to put on the brakes; the story finds a way to impart information about the world while still remaining propulsive.
There’s also the matter of comic characters as mythological beings. Both Marvel and DC haven’t really done much to play with this concept in a meaningful or enjoyable way. Meanwhile, John Wick crafted an entire universe from the ground up. Many people even ask if John Wick was based on a comic or video game. That’s how good it was at crafting a mythology. Marvel and DC might want to takes some notes here.
To be fair, the X-Men franchise is finally starting to get to this level. Deadpool and Legion are trying new things and that’s immensely refreshing. But Marvel Studios and DC Films are actually playing things a little safe. Mashing together the Avengers might have seemed risky but it was actually the best possible thing to do from a marketing standpoint. That concept is bulletproof. Throwing Batman into your Superman sequel? Clearly a case of ensuring people will go see it.
The John Wick films are experimenting with violence, its world, and how to present an action-heavy story. It would be nice if Marvel and DC, two of the biggest and safest properties out there, risked more with their films. Give us something we really haven’t seen before. That’s one of the reasons people loved John Wick and why they’re coming back to see the next film. Don’t be scared. Take a leap.