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'John Wick: Chapter 4' Director Talks Cartoonish Action Scenes: 'We're In On The Gag'

"John Wick: Chapter 4" director Chad Stahelski compared the action in the franchise to cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote. 

By Tyler McCarthy
Keanu Reeves and Chad Stahelski at the premiere of 'John Wick 4'

Since the first “John Wick” movie dropped in 2014, fans were introduced not just to one of the greatest action heroes of our time, but the surprisingly complex world of professional assassins he lives in. As the franchise continues to grow and expand both in mythology and its over-the-top action setpieces, the director of all four films wants viewers to know he’s well aware of just how bonkers he’s made these movies. 

With the release of “John Wick: Chapter 4,” director Chad Stahelski spoke with USA Insider about how he thinks about having to expand the universe with each new installment as well as how he successfully tops himself every time. 

“I don’t think it’s much a conscious thought,” he explained. “I don’t write them that way, we don't try to design them that way.” 

He previously noted that he prefers to think of the movies as love letters and homages to the things he loves. They’re each kind of a hodgepodge of all the things he wishes existed in films but don’t. For example, he likens the “John Wick” franchise to a present-day fantasy that simply isn’t out there in any other form. 

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“If I said name a present-day fantasy film, what would you say?” he posited. “So we’re like, ‘OK, well we’re going to do our own version of that with our own mythology.’ So now I have to keep expanding the world and the way to do it is not with longer action sequences or big explosions.” 

While the movies do have longer action moments and massively violent spectacles, Stahelski explained that it's the complicated mythology of things like The Continental hotels and the many families and factions who sit under the mysterious High Table that hooked viewers and keeps people coming back for more. That's why they're poised for their own spinoffs. 

"Im fascinated by the Japanese concept of the art of dying,” he explained. “Only a samurai can know a samurai, only a warrior can know a warrior, only a John Wick can know a John Wick. So, no matter what side of the line you’re on, these people all bond together and it was that bonding that we thought was really interesting.”

All that said, "John Wick" is an action franchise like no other. Coming from a background in stunt work and having even previously doubled for Keanu Reeves on “The Matrix,” crafting action moments comes easier to him than most. That’s why the films so quickly got a reputation for their impressive, never-before-seen action setpieces. 

“You read reviews of how ridiculous it is or how extreme or hyper-real… We know, we’re very very self-aware,” he said of the movies’ escalating violence. “So when I throw somebody down not one, not two, not three, not four, not five but six sets of stairs, I’m letting everyone know, we’re with you guys. We’re in on the gag."

He added: “That’s why we don’t shoot ten people, we shoot 400 people. We want you to know we’re making fun of the genre, we’re making fun of ourselves. Sit back, have a laugh. If you get some themes out of it and if you love some of the characters, sit back and enjoy!” 

The director concluded by noting that the people who work behind the scenes on the “John Wick” movies know exactly what they’re making and take great pride in putting their character through punishment that’s closer to a cartoon character’s antics than a traditional action hero.

“It’s a Bugs Bunny cartoon, it's Wile E. Coyote, it’s Buster Keaton, it’s Harold Lloyd, it’s Jackie Chan. It’s everything we love about movies and we try to share that with everybody to inspire or get a laugh out of,” Stahelski said. “We also know what we’re doing. You don’t have to come into a ‘John Wick’ writer’s room and go, ‘you guys are crazy.’ Yeah, we already know it. We’re well aware.” 

Catch the “John Wick” movies on USA Network, SYFY, and Peacock now.