John Wick’s dog is dead. Now, he’s pissed and he’s out for blood, the blood of those who wronged him and his wife’s memory. And this night, they’re all gonna drown in hot lead….
On the surface, John Wick’s high concept, a retired hitman goes on a rampage to avenge his pet dog and recover his prized car while murdering criminals, is so 1980s, I was waiting for KITT and Magnum P.I. Tom Sellick to pull up with Danger Zone cranking in the background. And yet, this seemingly out of touch, out of time 80s time warp action thriller has become one of the best action films of the past decade with a killer soundtrack, a likeable cast of killers, criminals, and shadowy criminal cabal leaders, but most importantly? Worldbuilding that supports/interweaves the story, and both aids and hinders all its characters.
John Wick doesn’t pretend its premise/world really doesn’t make sense outside of the cinema. Assassins, bounty hunters, bodyguards, all seemingly have connections/support from various far reaching criminal cabals. Assassins can take marks on each other, blood debts are paid, and can then be revoked accordingly with elaborate rituals. Now, real world criminal groups do engage in such rituals, but the concept of transcontinental super criminal orgs controlling regional high tiered organized crime groups like the Yakuza, the Mafia, etc, seems silly.
It’s not. In fact, it’s rooted in real world traditions. During the 1920s/early 1930s, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, powerful ethnic crime bosses/and long time friends, crushed the old ethnic gangs across the United States along with rising players like Al Capone and others. With the old bosses dead, retired, or in exile, the two formed the Commission, a governing body formed predominantly from the Mafias of Italian and Jewish descent. The Commission wielded massive influence, able to order assassinations, rescind/eject crime bosses from its ranks, etc. The idea was to consolidate criminal activity under a relatively strict set of “laws” against traditional life. Obviously, many gangsters broke these tenets, twisted them, but they often paid the blood price.
John Wick takes the idea of the Commission global. There are two general supergroups: The High Table, a criminal Illuminati and the primary antagonists of the greater Wick universe, who seemingly want Wick out of the picture for nebulous reasons. There’s the Continental, an amoral chain of five star hotels that has all a criminal could need or want: fine dining, luxury, the best tools, weapons, and threads to leave their marks a blood mess, and other goodies.
The Continental is actually one of the best worldbuilding factions I’ve seen in a while. They have their own agenda, rules, and customs. It plays a major role in both aiding and hindering John Wick and his enemies. And despite the Continental’s affection for John, they enforce the rules with severity. The House wins, as many unfortunate guests find themselves in a bodybag for violating its rules. John Wick learns this the hard way, with a bounty issued and having all his privileges to the Continental revoked. Excommunicado. And this is a great consequence to Wick’s actions. He broke the rules, and no matter his reputation or his relationship with the Continental, he’s not exempt.
He’s punished according to the House’s rules.
This doesn’t mean the Wick universe isn’t slightly silly or highly exaggerated. But that’s part of the charm of fiction, things are stylized, romanticized, reexamined from a different angle.
But as Brandon Sanderson drills into the heads of his BYU creative writing students, the world exists independent of Wick, rather than around him. And that is a mark of solid worldbuilding when it comes to a fictional work.
Also, every time a character says “Johnnn Wickkk” is a great drinking game, too.