John Wick: Video Game Action Hero?


The long-awaited third chapter of the John Wick trilogy: John Wick Parabellum, recently arrived in cinemas worldwide and delivered on its promises to be as brutally exhilarating and visually rich as its predecessors. These films have been immensely and somewhat unexpectedly popular, signalling an excellent return to form for its lead star Keanu Reeves, with a back to basics shoot-everything and indeed everyone, style of blockbuster.

Films like The Raid as well as the John Wick franchise recreate the relentlessly exhausting feeling of combative gameplay for the viewer. These movies have an almost constant source of momentum and frantic pacing due to certain narrative devices and structures that are so similar to that of a video game. There is certainly an ever-growing relationship between games and cinema. Back in 2010, Edgar Wright brought us Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, which was built on a visual wealth of video game references and speaks the language of an avid teenage gamer. We’ve also got  Pokémon: Detective Pikachu and a Sonic the Hedgehog film coming out next year. Where John Wick triumphs, however, is almost certainly that it is not based on an already existing game world, unlike the simply appalling Assassin’s Creed film from 2016 or World of Warcraft from the same year.

This is just one of many big action blockbusters in recent years to share an affinity with the gaming world. Big blockbusters such as Source Code and Edge of Tomorrow have explored and borrowed from video game structure, through the ideas of simulation and characters returning to the same challenges multiple times in order to achieve victory. Jake Gyllenhaal’s lead in Source Code must repeatedly enter a simulated reality until he locates and stops a terrorist bomb plot, and effectively solves the level, restarting every time he is killed.

In the arcade-style, beat-em-up-structure of the screenplay, our lead protagonist utilises what can only be described as a completely insane and limitless supply of ammo and weaponry. Like many games, there seems to always be convenient and totally unrealistic supplies of bullets at all times in the world of John Wick, and there is a computer-generated perfection to Wick’s extraordinary balletic martial arts prowess.

The body count in John Wick is absolutely monumental, which draws many similarities to the way in which kills are constantly accumulated in a first-person shooter game. True, many films involve a lot of death and killing, but Mr Wick takes this to stratospheric new levels. From scene to scene as the lone crusader roams from one location to the next, dispatching with one villain at a time, there is traditional videogame structure at play, as we see him progressing to the next phase of gameplay once a challenge has been overcome and what is effectively the level mastered.

Wick must work his way through levels of difficulty in each of the films so far, taking on bigger numbers of more heavily armoured henchmen at each new scenario. At the close of the excellent first John Wick instalment, we see John confront and eventually kill mafia kingpin Viggo Tarasov who is effectively the ‘final boss’, a component of video game structure which marks the final level of challenge and the most difficult opponent. It’s this simple method of storytelling that makes these films so satisfying and fun.

This kind of movie has almost limitless appeal to multiple generations of devoted gamers without being a direct video game adaptation, an apparently winning combination. Gaming is perhaps at its all-time summit of popularity, and John Wick is the perfect film for this time, offering blockbuster thrills, arresting visual depth, throwaway fun and the perfect videogame satisfaction through film.

Words by Ed Budds


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