John Wick 3: Following the Rules



John Wick 3: Parabellum is taking the box office by storm. It overtook Avengers Endgame at the box office and has proven to be one of the most lucrative franchises in recent years - not least because of its cost effective production but also because it just a damn good series.


It's a film like no other - sure there have been chaotic action films and over the top explosive action heroes in the past, but there's never been (at least as good as this) a series of such films that adheres so consistently to its own rule set.


So here's your screenwriting tip for the day: Learn from John Wick and follow your own rules.


When I say 'rules', I'm referring to the unspoken rules of the universe of John Wick that allows the action and plot points to unfold in the way that they do.


If there's a unique selling point to these films, its that the action is choreographed with such brutal, comic and spectacular styling that you can't help but be enthralled, even if the beat by beat story structure is pretty paint by numbers.


Embedded in these action sequences are the rules of the John Wick universe. Some of these rules include:


  1. The ability for Wick to take unbelievable amounts of damage.

  2. John Wick's incredible, near superhuman level of skill when it comes to martial arts or weaponry.

  3. The mechanisms of the world, such as codes of honour and respect.

  4. The public's passive response to encountering such violence.


These are some of the conventions that we've come to expect in the world of John Wick. The 4th rule, the public's seemingly inability to comprehend or react to the violence that ensues around them, is an interesting one and is exemplary of the point I'm trying to make. Upon first viewing of a John Wick film, one might think it is strange that no one reacts to the cold-blooded killing of a man in front of them on a street or subway platform. However, because this is consistently the case throughout all three films, it becomes acceptable (even if we don't quite understand why it is the case).


Likewise, when John Wick survives certain death time and again, we don't roll our eyes at its implausibility because this is consistently the case for the protagonist and is expected by the audience.


An example of the contrary can be found in films such as A Quiet Place. Though an incredible film overall, there are parts of this story that don't quite make sense. In one scene, characters are seen playing boardgames with substituted pieces in order to reduce the noise - the implication being that even the slightest noise will attract the creatures outside. However, in another scene, one of the characters is seen playing in an abandoned vehicle and climbing out of the car to return home. There's no way this activity wouldn't attract the creatures and so by being inconsistent in what characters can and cannot do in the story, they run the risk of pulling audiences out of the story.

The strengths of the John Wick films might seem to be in the choreography and direction at first glance. It's certainly not going to win any oscars for acting or the like (though it proves that we desperately need an Oscar for stunt acting). However, there is a lot to be learned from John Wick when it comes to the nuances of screenwriting and story structure.


In all honesty, this post is just an excuse to go and rewatch these great movies again. Thanks for humouring me.


(Image copyright: Summit Entertainment)