The Hellish Mythology of John Wick

Some very mild spoilers ahead

There are plenty of things to say about John Wick Chapter 2 as a movie. I could talk about its disjointed pace, the absence of an emotional hook or the very definite Episode 2 (or is that Episode 5?) feel of it. I could talk about how excellent the death of Gianna D’Antonio was, or how I smiled when Lance Reddick’s maître d’hôtel said the Dog had been a good boy. But it struck me suddenly, amidst all the imagery of Hell and travels through the Underworld, that I may have done John Wick a disservice, that it is much richer in mythology than I realised.

Let’s begin with Lance Reddick’s character: Charon. In Greek Mythology, Charon was not of the Dead, but offered the dead safe passage through the Underworld for a token; a coin. So far so similar. And in this Underworld, it’s Ian McShane’s Winston that has the ident of 11111. Master and First of the Underworld, whose gatekeeper accepts tokens for safe passage and protection. Hades, god of the underworld, the dead and of riches. The man who has just excommunicated John Wick, the Boogeyman and Hell’s own avenging angel.

There are literary references in abundance, from Lawrence Fishbourne’s Fisher (here Bowery) King to Ruby Rose’s Ares. But the most prominent are the references to Hell and redemption that abound and finally cleared the cloud from my eyes. Two stories tell of those who escape Hell. Orpheus, who journey there because of his dead wife, and Dante in the Divine Comedy, who seeks redemption for his sins. However you spin it, this is a Cthonic tale, of demons of the underworld fighting to either keep their brightest and darkest in their midst, or to dim his dark light.

Both Orpheus and Dante survive their journeys in the end, albeit changed. But can John Wick survive if he is to gain redemption? Or must he first tear down the walls of Hell? Only Chapter Three will show us. And while I didn’t enjoy Chapter 2 as much as it’s predecessor, I’m still looking forward to it.

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