Netflix has spawned several movies that have tried to copy the John Wick franchise, with the streaming service seeing varying degrees of success. John Wick‘s plot, centering around a grieving husband seeking revenge on the sadistic criminals that killed his puppy, received a riotous critical response in 2014, backed up by an impressive box office haul. Many films have since tried to replicate John Wick‘s winning formula, including several of the franchise’s own sequels, but few have been able to capture the panache and grit of John’s (Keanu Reeves) original avenging mission.
The antihero theme, particularly in a neo-noir setting, has become increasingly prevalent in modern cinema as studios skew towards morally ambiguous protagonists. The antihero allows a breadth of freedom, particularly in the action genre, that a conventional leading man could not have been afforded in a more traditional hero role. Keanu Reeves’ John Wick is a classic example of an audience-approved antihero whose heartbreak and revenge mission is cheered on by director Chad Stahelski’s empathetic portrayal of a man with nothing to lose.
Netflix, in particular, has been incredibly keen to replicate the tone and success of the John Wick franchise, producing several Wick-inspired films over the last few years. John Wick‘s antiheroic character, taut action sequences, and avenging storyline are all elements utilized by the streaming service across different projects to date. Here’s every Netflix movie that tried to copy John Wick and a detailed look at how they did.
Jonas Åkerlund’s Polar is about as close to a carbon copy of John Wick as it is possible to get without infringing copyright – a statement that is all the more puzzling considering Polar‘s source material is a stunning set of graphic novels from Victor Santos. It seems Netflix’s Polar, whose release was sandwiched in-between John Wick: Chapter 2 and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum‘s releases, is a victim of attempting to emulate the 2014 John Wick that redefined the parameters of the action genre in the years that followed. Polar‘s determination to drift away from its Santos-inspired source material did not land well with critics, who lambasted the film’s attempts to reform The Black Kaiser’s (Mads Mikkelsen) storyline.
It is hard to find elements of Polar that do not resemble John Wick in some shape or form, starting with Polar‘s insistence on toeing the neo-noir action thriller line. Polar‘s comic book roots allowed the Netflix production the opportunity to make an entertaining yet tongue-in-cheek movie akin to (the now rebooted) Kick-Ass, but instead, Åkerlund chose to emulate Stahelski’s framework. Polar‘s premise is also closely aligned with the story of John Wick, with the Kaiser coming out of retirement to seek revenge on those who wronged him. The movie even attempts to inject heart into its storyline – ALA John’s puppy – with Vanessa Hudgens’ appearance as Camille, but this attempt at emulating Wick also fails due to the Kaiser’s sudden change of heart and Hudgen’s inability to convince as a broken woman capable of connecting with a previously stone-cold assassin.
Aside from its gratuitous – or even extreme – martial arts-inspired action and violence, Xtreme‘s ties to John Wick stem from the Spanish film’s over-reliance on a linear narrative that mirrors John’s journey from a grieving husband to rejuvenated assassin. Once Máximo’s revenge (Teo García) is set in motion by a brutal murder, Xtreme follows a simple path as the protagonist cuts a bloody swathe through the surprisingly samurai sword-filled streets of Barcelona’s underworld. Xtreme‘s primary villain, Lucero (Óscar Jaenada), is as equally one-dimensional as Alfie Allen’s Iosef Tarasov, who indiscriminately kills women and children with little thought to the repercussions, which sets Máximo on a collision course with his gang.
Lucero’s henchmen in the climactic action sequence even wear black tailored suits over white shirts, which appears a very direct nod to the fashion of the John Wick series and even its clones. Xtreme seems as hung up on emulating Keanu Reeves as it does John Wick‘s success, with one of the film’s fight sequences featuring hundreds of machine gun rounds decimating building interiors in the same manner as Neo and Trinity’s attempt to save Morpheus in The Matrix. While Xtreme is certainly a step up from Polar in terms of originality, the film still feels shackled by looking to stick to the script that brought John Wick such success.
Gunpowder Milkshake (2021)
Described by Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times as “an insanely over-the-top, deeply stylized, bullet-riddled and female-centric riff on the John Wick movies,” Gunpowder Milkshake certainly does not shy away from the Chad Stahelski film that no doubt inspired it. Gunpowder Milkshake – Black Widow comparisons aside – works by following the well-trodden formula of assassins reacting to betrayals and violence in kind, complete with ample explosions, action sequences, and the death of a loved one. In this case, the avenging angel is Karen Gilliam’s Sam, a “master assassin” working for The Firm who comes back to haunt the killer-for-hire structure that housed her for so long.
It seems Netflix believes Gunpowder Milkshake can get away with its overt similarities to John Wick simply because the film swaps the genders of the main characters. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with casting strong, female leads, where Gunpowder Milkshake falls down is that the film does not build upon this narrative decision beyond having its collective core of female characters mow down waves of faceless opponents in a haze of bullets. Instead of giving these leading women a truly energizing and empowering battle to engage with, Navot Papushado’s Gunpowder Milkshake is, at its core, a wholly generic action movie. John Wick‘s heightened violence may be gratuitous, but it is done so in the context of John’s burning emotions, which is a fact Gunpowder Milkshake fails to realize completely as it pushes forward with snazzy visuals barely held up by a pedestrian storyline.
Cedric Nicolas-Troyan’s film follows in the footsteps of Gunpowder Milkshake in almost every way, which by extension mires Kate as another bland John Wick copycat. Kate‘s usage of assassination-based firms, tetchy handlers and arms dealers masquerading as real businesses are all elements straight out of the John Wick playbook as Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s titular character goes on a killing rampage. Kate also ensures there is also a sentimental element added to proceedings, this time in the form of Ani (Miku Martineau), a crime boss’s daughter who acts as a mirror for Kate’s heavy-handed backstory. What is worse for Kate‘s failure is it was released by Netflix some three months after their other female assassin feature, meaning Kate quickly falls into ignominy as not only a disappointing imitation of John Wick-inspired action but also as second fiddle to the already unoriginal Gunpowder Milkshake. The movie, at the very least, has a terrific Mary Elizabeth Winstead performance to anchor it.
Next: Why John Wick 4 Needs To Feature More Martial Arts Stunts
- John Wick: Chapter 4 (2022)Release date: May 27, 2022
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