How John Wick’s Minimalism Saved the Action Movie Genre From Itself

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Ask any action movie fans the names of 10 great films in the 2010s, the three John Wick movies will most likely be in that list. A movie titled Scorn was turned into John Wick and in 2014, Keanu Reeves, along with Chad Stahelski and David Leitch proceeded to rescue a genre that was getting lazy with speed cuts and camera movement.

Taking back the action genre to the minimalism of Akira Kurosawa and Dollar trilogy, John Wick showed, the fans were not going to see an action movie for shaky camera and excessive edits. They wanted the thrill of seeing one human achieve impossible feats while looking good for the camera. We, fans, wanted to see a movie inspired by the old days with less CGI and more almost-real action.

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While the 2010s started out great with Takashi Miike‘s 13 Assassins, a movie that is criminally under seen. We were back to shaky cams and cuts in no time, Taken trilogy for example. Chad and David, both stuntmen saw the mess action genre was becoming and with Keanu Reeves made a movie that would make a real fighter and stuntman proud.

John Wick’s Minimalism Needs to be the Driver for Action Movies Moving Forward

While shooting people cannot be done practically, the CGI use there is understandable, John Wick than proceeded to make a movie that did not dim the lights or hide the principle actor. The directors and stunt coordinators were doing their best to show Keanu was performing all the action himself. And fans spoke with their wallets at the box office.

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Before the release of the movie the directors made comments of how minimalism of years gone by have inspired them so far. Talking about their inspiration for John Wick, Chad said, “A lot of ’70s style action films. Again, Kurosawa films, for its minimalistic nature. A lot of Sergio Leone films. ‘Point Blank’ with Lee Marvin. ‘Bullit'”

David also mentioned, “‘The Man from Nowhere’. ‘The Vengeance Trilogy’ for its minimalist composition and graphic nature… some of our favorite stuff.” These are all movies where so much of the lead character is unsaid and we are left to wonder the past of the character. It made for audience engagement and also the action that followed did not make the audience scoff at the ridiculousness.

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Though the directors did not mention it during their AMA on Reddit, I think David Cronenberg was also a huge influence for John Wick. Maybe I am biased, considering he is one of my favorite filmmakers, but the minimalism being talked about here is more than true for a Cronenberg movie.

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A History of Violence is one of the best action movies of all time and the movie is an exercise in minimalism. With a protagonist that wants to live a normal life with his family, run a diner and be a good father as well as a loving husband. Still, the past deeds come calling, destroying and repetitive experience the lead character was happy living.

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Also Read: The Continental with Young Winston Joining the John Wick Franchise as a TV Event!

So, here is John Wick, a man who is tired of all the killing he has done in life, all he wants to do is be in peace with the memory of his wife. Then some thugs walk into his life and decide to wake the monster that was dormant. What transpires for John Wick is an action movie that purist can enjoy without having to make excuses for the over CGI.

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Chad and David showed that a steady camera and a well trained actor with hours spent in choreography practice was enough to make a action movie. Yes, a story is needed, but imagine if Liam Neeson was playing John Wick instead of Keanu Reeves, well, you don’t have to imagine, just watch Honest Thief.

We ca really do away with shaky camera and so called dynamic editing, they are responsible for almost killing a genre. Had it not been for John Wick, action movies would be something you watched while not being able to sleep on a 4 hour-plus plane ride. I want to feel the fun of First Blood, or even Die Hard, I want to be made to think by a action movie like the Dollar trilogy does. And do I even need to bring up Kurosawa?

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CGI is obviously here to stay, and Andy Serkis has shown how it can be harnessed to generate great performances on screen. But an action movie, gun-totting Russian-mobster-killing action movie does not need Industry Lights and Magic creating 800 special effects shots. Minimalism needs to be the keyword in each director’s notebook when making an action movie.

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