Are 'John Wick'-Style Action Movies Really About ... School?
The newest John Wick-like action movie where a seemingly regular dude turns into a grizzled badass who effortlessly kills anyone with a hint of a Slavic accent is Nobody starring Bob Odenkirk, Christopher Lloyd, and a bunch of faceless Russian mobsters who only exist to be mowed down by the guy from Mr. Show.
This is just the latest in a relatively recent trend of movies that chronicle middle-aged men taking the law into their own hands like Nobody and John Wick. It even hits as far back as 2008's Taken, in which a schlubby dad has to save his daughter from evil sex traffickers after she makes the grievous error of setting foot outside of the United States. At first glance, it seems like these movies harken back to the 1970s vigilante trend, which found people like Charles Bronson in Death Wish going berserk on random urban crooks following a personal tragedy.
But there seems to be something else going on with this recent crop of films. While the dude from Death Wish only became a tough guy as a result of random violence, these modern vigilantes are already cold-blooded ass-kickers whose penchant for violence is suddenly reawakened. These movies aren't about transformation but restoration. In the '70s, crime rates in the U.S. were skyrocketing, but in the 21st century, they're plummeting. So what are these new vigilante movies about? We're guessing, um, school?
Perhaps the reason why movies like John Wick and Nobody resonate with audiences is that a lot of people have experienced an admittedly way wimpier version of that same story. Ultimately what these stories explore isn't violence; it's self-fulfillment. What makes Nobody so cathartic is that Odenkirk's character, Hutch, is finally able to succeed at doing something he's good at -- which makes sense because that's what he's been trained to do. And that's something many folks can relate to because while the number of adults with a college degree has only increased in recent years, a huge number of recent graduates are "underemployed" -- 41% are working in jobs that don't actually require a degree.
Nobody takes great pains to show us how monotonous and dull Hutch's day job at his father's metalworks company is. And it's extra-frustrating because we know that his skill-set is being underused because, again, this menial job includes no Russian murdering. Pointedly, the most famous quote from Taken is literally Liam Neeson bragging about his "particular set of skills" --
Yeah, it's two hours of a lame dad trying to show off his formal education, which he hasn't been able to use in everyday life -- the action movie equivalent of someone busting out some factoids about philosophy or saving their family with the ability to do creative writing.
Top Image: Universal