Sometimes, no amount of positive word-of-mouth and hype is going to be enough to get people to watch something. Sometimes, a film studio or TV network’s advertising arm is going to be powerless in its fight for your time and/or money because sometimes a film or TV show’s very premise is an instant nonstarter for audiences. I personally know people who recognize that Law & Order: SVU is a good TV show, but they’re never going to watch it because they’re simply uncomfortable sitting through hour-long investigations of crimes of a sexual nature. That’s understandable. In an era in which the insane variety of options for things to watch consistently overwhelms the free time you actually have, you have to draw the line somewhere. Well, I’ve drawn such a line with Keanu Reeves’ new movie John Wick, yet the fact that it’s apparently a heck of a film is causing me to rethink that.
I first became aware of John Wick when a 30-second TV commercial popped up during an episode of Supernatural a couple of weeks. I had never heard of the movie before that, didn’t know what it was about, and really had no idea what Keanu Reeves had been up to since 47 Ronin. As a Bill & Ted/Speed/Matrix fan, I’m always willing to at least take a look at a trailer for anything Reeves is in. However, it took me literally three seconds into this 30-second TV commercial to decide that there was no way in hell I was going to see John Wick. Why?
Well, at the one second mark we meet Daisy, a ridiculously adorable Beagle puppy being all puppy-like with Reeves’ retired hitman character:
It’s a low-down, no-good, lazy trick to throw a cute dog at us in a movie, the type of hack move Frank Darabont’s The Majestic joked was the type of thing studio executives in Old Hollywood used to force into movies in lieu of trying something original. But, seriously, who doesn’t love a puppy? John Wick officially had my attention.
Then at the three second mark we see a bloodied Keanu Reeves on the floor of his apartment while his voice-over informs us that he lost everything. Daisy barks at the assailants like a cute little puppy who doesn’t realize how small she is, and they respond by dragging her on the ground over next to Reeves and fatally punching her in the head:
As Phoebe Buffey would say, “What kind of sick, doggy snuff film is this?”
And I’m out. Sure, the rest of the movie actually looks fun, with “They killed my dog!” being more than sufficient motivation for the revenge killing spree Reeves’ titular character goes on. To be fair, it’s actually more about what the dog represents since it turns out she was posthumously left to Wick by his dead wife, who arranged for him to have it as a coping mechanism. However, that particular level of nuance isn’t so much communicated in the 30-second commercial, which mostly sticks to, “They killed my dog; they must die!” For my own sensibilities, that actually trumps Liam Neeson’s “They took my daughter!” motivation in the first Taken film. In fact, I really, really, really want John Wick to dole out Punisher-style vigilante justice to any bastard who had anything to do with killing Daisy. I just don’t want to be there to see it.
I should pause right now to point out that the whole time I’ve been writing this article I’ve had a 12-year-old Pug sleeping at my feet, snoring the way Pugs do, twitching every now and then in reaction to the dreams she’s having. It’s adorable. I’m not the type who will dress them up in outfits, make them pose for calenders, or carry them around in handbags, but, yeah, I’m a dog person.
Maybe it’s because 8-year-old me was traumatized by foolishly believing Hooch would be fine after taking a bullet for Tom Hanks in Turner & Hooch, or that I did not at all sign up for the group cry session Marley & Me turned out to be when I saw it on Christmas Day 6 years ago. Here’s a dead dog – Merry freaking Christmas. Or maybe it’s any other number of fictional dogs I’ve seen killed off in films over the year. Either way, I’ve been hurt before, and I’m not going to let John Wick do it again. I just can’t stand to see dogs killed off in movies. I know that doesn’t ultimately make sense since I’m usually fine with all the death and mayhem I’ve seen in action films over the years.
Director/writer Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths mocked those of us who feel that way, depicting a Hollywood screenwriter becoming entangled in “the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu.” Don’t worry – they don’t kill the dog because Benny (Sam Rockwell), who has masterminded the whole thing just to give his friend (Colin Farrell) the inspiration for a great screenplay, reasons, “You can’t let the animals die in a movie, just the women.”
That line got a fair bit of press at the time for being a bitter takedown of a culture in which I’m inspired to write this very article because John Wick dared to kill a dog, but I wasn’t particularly bothered when I saw an innocent female character ruthlessly murdered (eh, kind of) in a recent Vampire Diaries episode. This is the type of world where a website (DoesTheDogDie.com) which chronicles all pet-related deaths in films gets profiled by Time Magazine but no such alternative exists for female characters, unless somebody wants to get started on doesthegirldie.com. Part of it, though, is you simply don’t see animals killed that often in movies. So, you’re not as desensitized to it as you are to other forms of violence in movies. Another part is that there is an inherent difference between watching an actor pretend to die and a dog responding to the off-screen commands from its trainer.
However, a funny thing has happened since I saw that John Wick commercial: the reviews are in, and it’s apparently a heck of a film. It currently has an 86% Fresh Rating on RottenTomatoes, with the following critical consensus, “Stylish, thrilling, and giddily kinetic, John Wick serves as a satisfying return to action for Keanu Reeves — and what looks like it could be the first of a franchise.”
Isn’t it kind of silly of me to completely dismiss this movie because it kills a dog? After all, I could always simply look away during that part, right? Plus, isn’t it pretty messed up that I’m not okay with the dead dog, but I’m totally on board with the trail of dead human bodies Wick will leave behind in his quest for vengeance? Actually, yes, yes, and yes, but I don’t care. Kill a dog in a movie? That’s a nonstarter for me.
What about you? What are your pop culture nonstarters, those things that simply lose you at the pitch stage? Are you with me on John Wick? Or do you think it’s not that big of a deal? Let me know in the comments.
The 25 Most Traumatic Dog Deaths in Movies | Complex.com