Back in January, we heard that Lionsgate is “very interested in doing a John Wick TV show”, straight from the horse’s mouth. The horse in this case being Chad Stahelski, who co-directed the first Keanu Reeves kill-fest with David Leitch, and went solo in the director’s chair for John Wick: Chapter 2. He told SlashFilm that making a TV prequel to the John Wick movies “seems very appealing”.
If reading that paragraph has given you worries – and perhaps dark flashbacks to action-blockbuster-into-underwhelming-telly-series transitions of recent times, like Limitless, Taken, Minority Report, Shooter and Lethal Weapon – fear not! Here are some reasons why bringing the gun-fu past of Mr Wick onto the small screen could be a wonderful idea…
The original creators came up with the idea
The fact that David Leitch and Chad Stahelski are on board in some capacity immediately makes this a more exciting prospect than most movie-to-TV projects.
Given their commitment to this franchise – as evidenced by the rigorous training they put Reeves through for Chapter 2, when they could’ve just rested on their laurels – you can’t imagine these guys phoning it in, taking an executive producer credit and letting someone else sloppily take over. Along with Derek Kolstad – who wrote both films – you’d expect them to, at the very least, be very hands-on as producers.
In a dream world, Kolstad would write all the scripts and one of the directors would shoot the pilot episode at the very least. In reality, considering how busy these chaps are, we’d settle for them taking some outside talent under their collective wing, setting up some story arcs for them, showing them the action ropes, and generally being available for questions and assistance when necessary.
The story arcs support seems certain to happen. In the aforementioned SlashFilm interview, Stahelski said, “We basically almost have a prequel written”. He added that they want to “save all our prequel ideas and impossible task ideas for that [TV] medium”.
With these fellas involved, we can’t picture the John Wick TV show being naff. It might not have the budget to ape the scale of the movies every week, but you’d expect the overall feel to remain the same. And some more brutal assassinations from this floppy haired harbinger of death are always, always welcome.
It would tie to the movies, rather than reboot them
The implication seems to be that the John Wick TV prequel will not be an entirely separate entity to the John Wick film series. Instead, it will be a direct prequel to the movies, with the original creators overseeing an exploration of John’s backstory, which so far has deliberately been left tantalisingly ambiguous.
A younger John, in the prime of his murder game – before the mourning and the guilt dog ownership overtook him – is something we’d really love to see. And, on top of that, it could add further depth to the movies. If we could see a bit more of John’s earlier life, and learn what he was like when his wife was still alive, it could mean we bring more empathy to the cinema the next time we cram in to see the grown-up Keanu version of John kicking arse and taking names.
This is infinitely more exciting than a TV show that bears little resemblance or relevance to the movies its related to. That Taken show, for example, isn’t a true prequel to the Liam Neeson films because it takes place in the modern day. They decided not to set it in the 90s, so it’s impossible to imagine that the Bryan Mills of the show is actually the one from the films. Disbelief goes out the window, and any chance of connecting the two properties on an emotional or storytelling level goes with it.
A John Wick TV show that actually matches up to the movies, though? That could be brilliant. If they could plan it out and schedule it properly, they could even have characters from John’s past establishing themselves in the TV show before returning to haunt modern day John in the next movie. Everyone’s a winner in that sort of scenario.
There’s actually a story to tell
As we’ve touched upon already, one of the most appealing things about the prospect of a John Wick TV show is the fact that there is genuinely a story gap to fill. This isn’t a prequel that’s being shoved down the public’s throats for the sake of making a quick buck; rather, it’s a valid addition to the mythos, which could answer some questions that fans have had for years.
Principal of these questions is this: just how the hell did John complete his “impossible task”, and earn his relatively short-lived retirement?
We already know what the impossible task was. It was established in the first film that, before allowing him to step out of the professional killing game, Russian crime syndicate boss Viggo Tarasov tasked John with offing all of his enemies one night. The job was deemed impossible, but John ruddy well did it. He’s cool like that.
Doesn’t that sound like a tailor-made series finale? That endgame – John kills more people than ever in one grisly night, before driving into the sunset with his wife – would be a wonderful payoff. The promise of that, surely, would be enough to make people want to watch the whole series.
It remains to be seen how far back the series will start. They could go all the way back to John’s first training if they wanted to, delivering multiple seasons to connect the dots between an ordinary bloke and a killing machine that just wants to be left alone. Presumably, some sort of military experience happened at some point. That could be a whole season, if they wanted it to be.
But would showing John’s whole journey – including his first job as hitman, his first trip to the Continental, the day he met young Ian McShane and young Laurence Fishburne, and so on – demystify the mythos of the movies too much? After all, part of the fun with this franchise is learning the quirky details of the world from an outsider’s perspective as the movies rattle along.
If they wanted to avoid totally demystifying the world and the character, they could just make it a tight 10 episode series leading up to the impossible task. But surely a longer prospective run will be more appealing to every network and streaming service that might be interested in investing. It’s a tough one.
The action could be spectacular
One of the reasons that David Leitch didn’t return to co-direct John Wick: Chapter 2 was that he was too busy working on Atomic Blonde, a spy flick starring Charlize Theron. Judging by the trailers for that movie, Leitch and his team did a fine job of training Charlize up to Keanu-esque levels of bad-assery…
And here’s a fun fact for you: while preparing her for the film, Leitch brought Theron to the same gym where Keanu Reeves was training for John Wick: Chapter 2, and the pair sparred together on the regular.
My second thought, after hearing that, was this: since Stahelski and Leitch were willing to train Charlize and Keanu at the same time, would they also bring the ‘young Keanu’ they cast for the TV series to train alongside actual Keanu? Presumably, he’ll be getting ready for John Wick: Chapter 3 at the same sort of time that the TV show is being developed.
(This was my first thought, if you were wondering: can we see a Charlize Vs Keanu movie please?)
The prospect of young John Wick and adult John Wick being trained together by the same marital arts experts at the same time is absolutely mouth-watering. The star of the TV show could pick up mannerisms from Reeves, and they could learn the same fighting styles. They could practise loading a gun in the exact same way, and stuff like that.
If they can train whoever ends up playing TV John to a similar standard that Mr Reeves has achieved, the John Wick TV show could rival the Daredevil corridor sequence for televised action excellence.
The perfect young Keanu is probably available
Speaking of casting, I can’t be the only person that sat down to watch Iron Fist and spent a fair bit of time thinking that Tom Pelphrey (who plays the mentally unstable corporate dude Ward Meachum in Marvel’s naff martial arts/boardroom drama series) is the absolute spitting image of Keanu Reeves, especially when he’s suited and booted and looking stressed out.
Unless I’ve gone face blind, Pelphrey is perfect pick for the role of young John Wick. As well as having the look, he’s also got a bit of gunplay and fisticuffs experience thanks to Iron Fist and Banshee. Train him up alongside Reeves, for as many months as necessary, and surely Pelphrey would be able to pull off playing a younger version of him.
He’s got an impressive emotional range, too, which could come in handy for any particularly gruelling character scenes in the series. And he’s 18 years younger than Reeves, giving the writers plenty of wiggle room. They could slot the story of the TV show anywhere into the twenty years prior to the first film, and viewers would probably go along with it.
This is, of course, assuming that Reeves wouldn’t return to play his younger self. He’s barely aged a day in the last decade, so he could definitely pull it off. But, assuming Reeves is too busy with blockbusters to spend months on a telly show, Pelphrey would be a very strong choice. And, at the time of writing, nobody seems to be scrambling to make Iron Fist season 2, so he’s probably free.
Making a John Wick TV show isn’t an impossible task, then: the expertise from the writers, directors and stunt guys is all there to be used; whoever ends up being cast could shadow Reeves and train alongside him; plus, there’s a story worth telling, and fans that want to see it. Count us very much in!