Max Landis, the screenwriter of Chronicle and American Ultra, has a very active social media presence on You Tube and Twitter. Given the popularity of John Wick Chapter 2, Landis caused quite a stir yesterday when he tweeted his observation that no women speak during the first 40 minutes of the movie. He was savaged by replies from male users, the bulk of which accused his observation as a needless outcry of sexism by an SJW (social justice warrior). But does Landis have a point? Does the lack of or delayed presence of a female character unintentionally make John Wick 2 sexist?
The word “sexism” should be defined first as anything that stereotypes, discriminates, or insinuates prejudice on the basis of gender, usually women. I personally don’t think Landis’ observation implies that the movie has unintentionally sexist undertones. His comments offer a criticism of the film’s lack of complex or well-defined female roles, which is a separate issue from a movie being “sexist.” In his You Tube rebuttal video, Landis even refers to the original John Wick, which had the female assassin Perkins (Adrianne Palicki), a major character in the narrative, to prove his point.
But given that John Wick Chapter 2 is above all an action film where there are very few dialogue-heavy dramatic scenes, we have to define each character not by what they say, but what they do. The world that the franchise sets up is a world populated by amoral assassins. To move up in the world requires dedication to the job, adherence to the established rules, and a cold heart.
It happens to be a world populated with men, but the world is open to women as well. Perkins was one of the most coveted killers in the original movie. In the sequel, Gianna (Claudia Gerini) is on the high council. She also chooses to take her own life instead of letting John Wick finish the job himself, all while giving him advice on how he can get out of what’s to come. This seems like the actions of a rather complex character who understands the world that she has chosen to live in. She lives and dies by her own hand. Likewise, Ares (Ruby Rose) is in a position of power where men take orders from her. The fact that she is mute adds a separate element to her sinister demeanour. As far as action movies go, she is the second to last villain John must face, which in a video game, puts her pretty high up as an end of level boss.
So while John Wick Chapter 2 may not have too many female characters, the ones it does have are actually quite strong and powerful. This is where I disagree with Max Landis’ observation. Also, the ratio of male characters to female characters is more or less the same in both movies.
I do contradict myself from my previous statements when I say I gave John Wick Chapter 2 a 9/10 instead of a perfect 10/10 mainly for the reason that it didn’t have enough female assassins. However, at no point did I think the female characters it did have weren’t as powerful as any of the males in the film. Landis also goes on to say in both his tweets and his You Tube post that he loved the film and thinks everyone should go see it. Thus, at the end of the day, it seems we have a classic case of Landis making a vague observation, which he has also done in the past (with his Ghost in the Shell comments), and the internet overreacting to their misunderstanding of his meaning in conjunction with a defined societal concept.