Hear Me Out: 'Nobody' Is Better Than 'John Wick'
English is a funny old thing. You say, “Nobody is better than John Wick,” and everyone is like, “Heck yeah, buddy! You’re alright. You should meet my sister. Her divorce was just finalized.” But you put “Nobody” and “John Wick” in italics and SUDDENLY I’m no longer good enough for Pamela?! (Baby, call me.) What was I saying? Oh right. So, yeah, Nobody, the 2021 Bob Odenkirk action film, is probably better than John Wick.
Look, I’m as surprised as you are. We’ve all seen the trailer and thought we understood the deal.
We would get your generic John Wick rip-off starring one of the best comedians ever in a much darker role, we would enjoy it while it lasted, and then we’d forget it a week later. That was the plan, but, NOOO, director Ilya Naishuller had to mess with the program by sucker-punching us with one of the best films of 2021, and then he just left us all alone to pick our jaws off the floor and process what we’ve just seen. So let’s get to it.
Nobody stars Odenkirk as a mild-mannered suburban dad Hutch Mansell whose house gets burgled, but OH BOY, did the robbers pick the wrong place to hit. See, it turns out that Hutch used to be a government assassin, and after everyone gives him shit for not stopping the thieves when he had the drop on them, he snaps back into his old, lethal self and goes all vigilante on everyone’s asses like some proctologist Batman.
Only that’s not what actually happens.
Hutch’s journey isn’t a typical revenge fantasy. You never get the feeling that he’s been waiting for an excuse, any excuse, to start practicing street dentistry using his fists. Rather, the character comes off as someone who spent the last 20 years of his life fearing that he was either incapable or unworthy of change because of all the evil things he’s done. AND yet, even when Hutch says those exact things, you can still hear the hesitation in his voice because he doesn’t want that to be true. Even though his family life became boring and monotonous, he still desperately wants to keep it. In John Wick, John kills first out of anger and then to protect himself. Hutch kills to protect his dream, trying to turn his inner darkness into (a twisted version of) something positive, and it’s fascinating to have something that multi-layered drive the action forward.
Speaking of action, it’s incredible but very different from John Wick’s military-fu/gun-kata. It’s dirty, and it’s not glamorous. Naishuller really has an eye for knowing when to keep still in the aftermath of a punch to the neck or knife to the gut just long enough for it to become uncomfortable. That way, you FEEL every ounce of the onscreen violence deep down in your core. Put it this way: I have seen John Wick paint walls with a bathtub-worth of brain blood and only reacted with a “Heck yeah!” But I’ve seen Hutch Mansell dislocate his thumb, and I winced hard.
All that doesn’t necessarily make Nobody better than John Wick… but its villain does. In both movies, the main character goes after Russian mobsters, and Nobody has many more memorable Russians. Though that’s not that hard, seeing as the ones in John Wick were generic as hell. But you will NEVER forget Nobody’s Big Bad Yulian (Aleksei Serebryakov), who could be one of the all-time great movie sociopaths. Remember how we all instantly fell in love with Ledger’s Joker when he pulled off his “disappearing pencil” trick?
Yulian gets a scene like that, too, and it’ll make you wince hard enough to pull a muscle.
John Wick is still an amazing movie, and even though the franchise has gotten so crazy that Keanu will probably enlist Elon Musk to get a meeting with the Moon King in the fourth film, I’m still taking Pamela to the premiere. I just hope that we can also get a bunch of Nobody sequels. Or better yet, a crossover, which the director TOTALLY WANTS TO DO, and every second we spend not trying to make that happen is a sin against God.
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Top Image: Universal Pictures, Lionsgate