***

That “fuckin’ nobody”… is John Wick. He once was an associate of ours. They call him “Baba Yaga.”

This movie is DARK, but tries to be a DARK comedy…or at least whatever the action version of a dramedy is. With that as its goal, it absolutely succeeds in making a bleak movie that has elements of those three genres. It also boasts a phenomenal cast.

For me the highlight was none of that though, it was just nice to hear some Russian again. That said, even with my Russian skills having atrophied for years, I disagreed with some translations. The first one is a literal translation issue. Right before John Wick–Keanu “The Matrix” Reeves”–succeeds in killing the target of his revenge, said target says the repeated line “It was just a fuck’n— [dog]”. Or so you Amerkantsi are led to believe. In fact he said one of the most rude phrases in Russian, иди на хуй. It is one of two ways in Russian to say “F You”. For those linguistically interested, it is phonetically idi na khuey. Literally translated that is “go to (the) cock”. The difference is huge. This was a final middle finger to one’s murderer, not emphatically shaking your hands/fists to express exasperation. The second translation harkens to my official quotation for the film. Baba Yaga (Баба-яга) gets called “the boogeyman”. Call me old-fashioned, but where I grew up and then learned about Slavic cultures Baba Yaga was an ultra witch with iron teeth who lived in a house that had three chicken legs, not the boogeyman. And the Russian Wikipedia article on the boogeyman is for Buka, not Baba Yaga.

That portion of the review may not be particularly relevant to one’s viewing choices, but it is what went through my head. On the other hand, a film’s message is often crucial to whether or not someone should watch a film. And the message here is an interesting one, whatever it is. Is it about relative morality? About codes of conduct? About group culpability? Even perhaps about the disadvantages of working for the Russian mob? Truthfully, I do not know what the directors–Chad Stahelski & David Leitch–or the writer–Derek Kolstad–wanted the message to be, but even for a dark movie this was troubling.

Please examine the facts, and keep in mind my 4 possible messages. John Wick gets rudely accosted by a young Russian, whom I referred to above as “target of revenge.” John Wick is depressed, since his wife, whom he loved deeply, just died. Target is offended by Wick’s lack of fear, and breaks and enters, beating the crap out of Wick and killing Wick’s new dog in front of him, before stealing his nice car and breaking the SUV. Target in movie logic, is now due a receipt for the bill he has rung up. We want to see him pay for being an awful human being. Now it turns out Target’s father was Wick’s Russian Mob boss Viggo. Viggo learns of this and tells Target that he is doomed because Wick is going to kill him no matter what. Viggo sends lots of guys to Wick’s house to kill him because Wick will not listen to him (about not revenge killing his son). Then there is about 90 minutes of Wick killing members of the Russian mob. Like dozens of people. Eventually Wick gets caught by Viggo and gets beaten up again, but is freed by Willem Dafoe, aka, Wick’s buddy who gets killed by Viggo later. After killing a dozen more people Wick gets the FU from Target, kills Target. Then he finds Willem Dafoe dead and goes to kill Viggo, who only killed Dafoe because Dafoe betrayed him and freed Wick. Wick then eventually kills more people, including Viggo. Wick finds new dog. The End.

WHAT

THE

HELL!??!

Recap: Antagonists – kill one dog and one person. Protagonist – kills the population of Montana, almost entirely comprised of Russian mobsters, most of whom we do not know the names of. Also, he kills Target and Target’s Dad Viggo.

  1. Relative Morality – If all killings were equally reprehensible, then Wick is 50x the villain that Target is, so we must be flexible and judge the value of those slain, over the number of them. This is a very dangerous, non-utilitarian viewpoint.
  2. Code of Conduct – The Russian Mob, like super abusive samurai, have a code, that when violated ought to elicit an appropriate response. The neutral acts, like killing underlings, are permissible because those people stood in the way of justice via the ethics of that agreed upon code.
  3. Group Culpability – This one is also a dangerous message. This is the “we will kill their families” school of thought. This is thee rationale behind casting Nazis as villains in films because screw it, they are Nazis and they get no sympathy because the group they have chosen, is Evil. This could explain how Wick can be the protagonist and murder like a hundred Russian mobsters. Still, Wick was a member of the mob and a self-admitted horrible person with many deaths on his hands before his retirement.
  4. The Disadvantages of Working for the Russian Mob – This is my favorite of the possibilities. Viewing this through the prism of a cautionary tale, this film loudly and repeatedly states, DO NOT WORK FOR THE RUSSIAN MOB. No matter your power—great or small, or how out of the life you think you are, your life is forfeit and you will end up pathetic, unhappy, and dead. The best case scenario is to be a bouncer who chooses to “take the night off”, i.e. betray the mob, and move on to live another day without the haunting memories of dead pets. That guy also had just lost 60 pounds. Do the math.