With a reputation as “the one you send to kill the Boogeyman,” it’s easy to dismiss John Wick as one of the worst criminals. However, the John Wick franchise paints a conflicting picture of his character, leaving fans torn between calling him a hero or a villain. On one hand, he’s a lethal assassin, feared even by the crime bosses he worked for. On the other, he’s a man grieving his wife and understandably seeking revenge on the men who took away the last thing she gave him. 

Several online conversations have debated this and whether he’s a hero, villain, or something in between, like an anti-hero or an anti-villain. There are many arguments in favor of each of those from his actions throughout the franchise and with each movie, he leans further away from one identity and closer to another. The upcoming John Wick: Chapter 4 will delve deeper into John’s life and perhaps finally offer a clearer picture of who he is.  

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Hero

He Doesn’t Kill Innocents

The franchise begins with John mourning his wife, living a quiet life at home with the dog she gifted him when Iosef and his goons attack him, steal his car, and kill his dog. Their actions force him back into the life of crime he’d left behind as he goes after Iosef to retrieve his car and get revenge for his dog. Once he was back in, getting out was impossible as the sequels showed. 

Throughout John Wick 1, which is arguably the best in the franchise, John only targets Iosef and his goons and takes care not to kill innocent people deliberately so while he doesn’t proactively look out for innocents like a conventional hero does, his conscious effort to not harm them is commendably heroic. For example, when he goes to the nightclub to find Iosef he only fights and kills his goons and not any of the other attendants who are just there to have a good time. 

He Gets Rid Of Villains

Throughout all three movies in the franchise so far, John fights and kills criminals, from everyone in Viggo’s empire to the assassins hunting him down once he’s declared “excommunicado.” He was particularly famous for wiping out many of his boss’ criminal enemies in a short period of time in order to gain his independence and start a new, gun-free life with his wife, Helen.

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By a basic definition, a hero is someone who gets rid of the bad guys so everyone else is safe and protected. However, most heroes on TV, like the Flash and Wonder Woman, don’t kill off the villains unless they absolutely have to. John, on the other hand, is very trigger-happy but his one saving grace is that his gun is always aimed at the bad guys so, in a roundabout way, he makes the world safer too.

He Leaves Crime For A While

Although the audience only gets a glimpse into John’s life with his wife, he was happier without the burden of guns and the hits he had to execute. Even the cops are aware of his former life and his retirement from it, based on a conversation in John Wick with Officer Jimmy when they received a noise complaint.

Given how good and how long he was an assassin, it’s admirable that John walked away and didn’t look back—at least not until he was forced to. It takes a truly honorable person to do that and is one of the few things that make it seem like he’s not a bad person. Even while he’s on his mission to hunt down Iosef, he tells everyone he’s not back in the business but simply taking care of something and his goal is to kill Iosef, get his car back, and go back home.

His Motives For Killing Aren’t Evil

Throughout the franchise, John is driven to kill for revenge, to honor a vow, and in self-defense. All of the people he kills are part of a reaction to him being provoked by someone else. For example, when Santino burns down his house to force him to kill Gianna, then later orders a manhunt for him until John kills him at the Continental.

While heroes generally tend to avoid killing people, even bad ones, there are times when circumstances force their hand. This is true for John who had to kill to survive or to right a wrong, unlike most villains who kill to intimidate, destroy people’s lives, or for some personal gain. In addition, he only killed criminals, and no one ever really shed any tears over those when they died.

Villain

He’s An Assassin

Beneath the man grieving his wife and his dog lies the best assassin in the John Wick universe whom the general public can easily view as a villain. When someone wrongs him, he doesn’t hesitate to get his hands bloody simply for the sake of revenge, which is something many big-bads have in common. 

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While it can be argued that his response to his dog’s death is a bit much and gains him the villain label, his actions are understandable to an extent. The dog was his last gift from his wife as something to comfort him in her absence. When Iosef killed it, he became the face of the thing causing his grief, so while he couldn’t kill cancer for taking away his wife, he was more than happy to kill Iosef for taking away the last part of her he had. Hence the conflicting opinions of him that have some fans considering him a sympathetic villain rather than someone who’s all-out evil. 

He Works For The Bad Guys

At the beginning of John Wick 2, he’s approached by Santino D’Antonio who invokes a “marker” for John to kill his sister. Because of the rules governing the criminal organization that he was part of and this unbreakable vow, John has no choice but to carry out the hit commissioned by Santino on Gianna. 

The old adage “you are the company you keep” applies perfectly to John here. While he was retired, he never had to use a weapon or kill anyone, but the minute he got back into the criminal life, he partnered with and worked for some of the worst criminals in the John Wick franchise and killed enough people to make a small army throughout the three movies. 

He Refuses A Less Bloody Alternative

When Viggo discovered what Iosef had done, he called John to talk him out of hunting down his son. As his former boss, he hoped to leverage that past connection to negotiate a civil resolution to his son’s horrid actions. John, however, didn’t even wait to hear Viggo’s proposal and hung up on him mid-sentence.

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Heroes typically settle for peaceful resolutions despite how badly the villain hurt them, for example when Peter eventually forgives Marko for killing Uncle Ben in Spider Man 3. John’s refusal to hear Viggo out is understandable in light of what happened, but his choice to go on a killing mission over his dog’s death, leaving a trail of dead bodies in his path is as unheroic as anyone can get.

He Kills A Lot Of People

By the time the credits roll on the third film, John’s kill count is almost impossible to keep track of. Granted, the people he kills are all criminals and people trying to eliminate him. However, from an ordinary person’s point of view, John is no better than the bad guys he kills.

Killing comes too easily to John, and someone like that is hardly considered good. Even though the initial return is justified after the heartbreaking murder of John’s dog, he kept finding more reasons to go back to killing. First, he was hunting Iosef, then Viggo for killing Marcus, then he killed more people while retrieving his car, and finished off Gianna to fulfill his marker. From that point of view, it seems being bad is simply in John’s blood, no matter how much he tried to get out of the business.

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