It’s been a rough ride for Keanu Reeves. After The Matrix achieved widespread acclaim and success, you might have expected the actor to have a smooth ride for the rest of his career. While he has had some breakthrough roles, not the least of which was starring in Constantine, his career has been up and down at best. John Wick, however, is being hailed as Reeves’ comeback, and one reviewer even called it his “renaissance.” I like him as an actor, so I’m glad he’s on the receiving end of creative success again. I’m just disappointed that it had to be through this film.
Neo John Wick is an ex-hitman who settled down with a wife. Shortly after his wife dies and leaves a puppy to her widowed husband, a petty son of a crime family attacks him, beats him half to death and kills his dog–so he can take John’s 1969 Mustang. That’s a problem. Because as the petty son’s father tells him, “John Wick is who you send to kill the [expletive] boogeyman.”
There’s little denying that Keanu Reeves is good in this movie. That’s only fitting, because that’s really the entire purpose of this movie: to be a Keanu Reeves action movie. But it’s little more than that. The plot of the film was summed up quite well by one reviewer: “Some idiot killed his dog and now everyone must die.” About halfway through the film, I was greatly concerned by the lack of challenge to John Wick’s revenge narrative. I kept watching, hoping that there would be some semblance of a redemption, some hint at the immorality of Wick’s piling of bodies. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t come.
In fact, the whole movie is not just a justification, but a glorification of revenge. The incessant killing has no perceivable affect on Wick. There’s not even any indication that the bloody nature of his job is why he settled down in the first place. To him, being a hitman isn’t any worse than being a plumber or an accountant. And this calloused nature of his, lest you should somehow misunderstand me, is the nature of the film’s good guy. The hero is a merciless killer.
I’m not going to make the case that any and all violence should be cut out of films. I won’t even say that a Christian should avoid any revenge narrative at all costs. But a narrative that glorifies revenge and never even once dares to question the morality of it, can only be described as an anti-Christian worldview. Let’s take some passages into consideration here:
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” – Romans 12:19
“For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” – Hebrews 10:30
I may also bring up a proverb written by Confucius, which depicts an accurate way to approach revenge narratives: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” Revenge never turns out well for either person. It doesn’t make the hate secede, and certainly not in the picturesque ending of this movie. I was reminded of this recently on the CW comic book adaptation Arrow. The main character, the Green Arrow, is trying to convince someone to not kill in revenge. He, who spent the early days of his crusade killing in vengeance, tells this person “it doesn’t make the pain go away.” That is a good way to approach a revenge narrative. That is how to shed light on a dark world.
But there’s none of that to be found here. So regardless of the cool cars, awesome fight choreography and intense Keanu Reeves, I can’t get behind this film. The identities of movie buff and Christian do not occupy distinct and separate places of my cohesive identity, and as a Christian, everything I see must go through the lens of Christ. And looking through that lens, I can see nothing redeemable in this film, and can only engage in condemning it, and the mindset that it represents.