The video game-inspired fight scene in the recently released neo-noir film, John Wick: Chapter 4, may have changed the game for action movies moving forward.
John Wick: Chapter 4, starring Keanu Reeves, follows Wick as he defiantly fights for his freedom by challenging the High Table’s Marquis (Bill Skarsgård). As with most John Wick flicks, John Wick: Chapter 4 is chock full of nightclub fight scenes, daring car chases, and eloquently articulated “yeahs” from the man you send to kill the f*cking Baba Yaga, Monsieur Wick.
But just when you think the movie couldn’t possibly raise the stakes with the franchise’s shoot-bang setpieces, the camera takes you for a ride with a mind-blowing top-down fight scene that looks like it was lifted straight out of games like the retro pixel-art shoot-‘em-up Hotline Miami.
How the top-down John Wick sausage was made
In an interview with /Film, director Chad Stahelski revealed that the explosive top-down fight scene wasn’t inspired by Hotline Miami specifically. Instead, Stahelski said he was inspired by the overhead-perspective bullet-time shooter The Hong Kong Massacre (which, it should be noted, was itself inspired by Hotline Miami.)
“If you’re ever lacking creativity, handcuff yourself and then figure it out, because then you’ll do something you haven’t done before. So top shots were never very cool with us, with lighting or choreography, because it gets old quick. But I had seen this video game and I’ll throw a shout-out—I think it was called “Hong Kong Massacre”—they did this top shot and we had been doing so much with the big muzzle flashes and it just kind of clicked like, ‘Well, if I’m above, we shoot like this and we shoot like this, and it draws these cool lines with the muzzle flash, and if I get the right flicker effect, it’s like Etch-A-Sketch. It looks really cool,’” Stahelski told /Film. “And it was a different way to amp up the action and keep you in that video game mode that John Wick’s kind of known for, that first-person shooter kind of thing.”
By using the same kind of cameras the NFL used during the Super Bowl, Stahelski said he and his cinematographer and production designer were able to finish shooting the top-down action sequence in three days.
“The real burden came to Keanu when we told him, ‘You got to come up the stairs, switch guns […] guys are going to be on fire, falling off the staircase, you’re going to come through here, and you only have to know about a hundred moves. And try not to screw up, because we only have three days,’” Stahelski said.
For a long time, eclectic action movies, TV shows, and video games like The Villainess, Netflix’s Daredevil, and Sifu have paid homage to director Park Chan-wook’s iconic corridor fight scene from the 2003 action thriller, Oldboy. Basically, scenes of this nature have characters battle hordes of goons while the cinematography follows them with a sidescroller-esque camera movement. These scenes are gorgeous because, unlike in Marvel movies, the flow of the action scene isn’t chopped up by countless camera cuts.
Considering the top-down fight in John Wick: Chapter 4 was one of the film’s three blowout final fight scenes, I’d argue that the film’s action sequences not only blow its contemporaries out of the water by the sheer scope of their choreography and camera work, but also help make it the best film in the franchise.
In other John Wick video game-related news, Derek Kolstad, the creator of John Wick, is slated to write scripts for film adaptations of the Sega Genesis’ classic beat ‘em up Streets of Rage and for Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell. Koltstad is also penning the script for Amazon Studios’ live-action adaptation of the vampiric anime, Hellsing. Upcoming John Wick works include Ballerina—a spin-off set between John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum and John Wick: Chapter 4 starring Ana De Armas—and a prequel miniseries called The Continental.