When Summit Entertainment brought us the first John Wick film, it was impossible to guess how popular and influential this franchise would really become. The franchise is good enough to have spawned three sequels (so far), with a television spinoff on the way, but it’s also starting to show a few cracks. After enough trips to the Continental Hotel, we’re here to break down the best and worst things about the John Wick franchise.
Best: Killer Action
If you ever try to describe what’s cool about John Wick to someone who has never seen one of the movies, you’ll probably sound a bit crazy. That’s because the things you will mention, like over-the-top action scenes, may not sound that impressive in a simple description.
But when you see those scenes on a big screen, the entire room becomes electric with tension.
In these films, we get more than just good guys and bad guys shooting at each other. We also get jaw-dropping set pieces and actors like Donnie Yen, that have a lifetime of experience making fights look good.
Ultimately, John Wick’s action scenes are like nothing we have seen before or since, which is why we’re on the countdown to both the sequel and the TV spinoff.
Best: Colorful Characters
The first John Wick film established that most of the characters we see aren’t your garden variety heroes or villains. Instead, Keanu Reeves’ character joins a colorful cast of international assassins who kick back at the Continental Hotel and who play cloak and dagger games with one another when they aren’t in the field with…well…actual cloaks and daggers (and guns…lots and lots of guns).
Even though later films gave us too much lore, we loved that these colorful characters helped make the franchise feel real, vivid, and lived-in from the very beginning.
Quite frankly, no other action film would achieve these kinds of colorful characters and excellent world-building until the release of Oscar-winning Everything Everywhere All At Once.
Best: Reinvigorated the Action Genre
As grumpy movie fans, we have been disappointed with the fact that John Wick spawned so many inferior copycats. However, we’re willing to forgive the franchise because it did something positive on an industry level: it reinvigorated the action genre throughout Hollywood.
For a depressingly long time, most action films–even those with a huge budget–boiled down to characters with no personality having forgettable shootouts in darkened sets.
Since John Wick came out in 2014, it has inspired a number of action films to go the extra mile, including everything from Atomic Blonde to the constantly-memed Guns Akimbo (the one where Harry Potter has gun hands).
And with the release of the colorful and successful (and obviously Wick-inspired) Bullet Train last year, it’s clear that John Wick has changed the big-budget action film game forever.
Worst: The Lore Is Out of Control
An obvious part of what made the first John Wick film so cool was the lore. This wasn’t just a cool action film or an unconventional revenge story. It was also our invitation into a secret world of assassins and golden coins that hinted at just how sprawling this cinematic world really was.
However, as the sequels kept coming, we learned the hard way there is such a thing as too sprawling. Sometimes, the franchise’s showcase action grinds to a halt so we can be fed even more lore to keep track of on top of the small mountain of lore we’ve already received (this started getting really bad around Chapter 3).
In short, we don’t want to have to become the Charlie Day conspiracy meme to keep track of everything we need to know in what should be a tight, action film.
Worst: All the Copycat Films It Spawned
Before you yell at us, we understand that it’s probably not exactly fair to blame the John Wick franchise for all of its crappy copycat films. But the blunt truth is that these films would never exist without the wild popularity of this action franchise. So we can’t help but hold this franchise at least partially accountable for the movies that tried to imitate it.
There are some exceptions: every now and then, we get a great film like Nobody that realizes part of what made John Wick so good was giving us such an unconventional protagonist for an action extravaganza.
Most of the time, though, we get awful dreck like Gunpowder Milkshake that offer mundane action scenes and a secret society of would-be colorful characters so bland you’ll forget we even mentioned them by the end of the next sentence.
Worst: Murky Motivations
One of the reasons everyone rooted so hard for John Wick in the first film is that he was on the kind of revenge quest everyone could relate to. Those bastards killed his dog, after all. And all the pet lovers in the audience couldn’t get enough of Reeves doling out punishment to the kinds of evil men who would be so cruel.
However, that movie also made it clear that he had thoroughly retired from this violent life and that he was really only “back” to get his revenge. As the franchise continued, each movie had murkier motivations for bringing his character back into the fold.
Some would say we shouldn’t dwell on this in a mindless action franchise, but the simple truth is that John Wick stood out as a smart action film and we are now forced to turn our brains off to go along with the main character’s latest call to adventure each time.