‘Nobody’ gets to be derivative, doesn’t get to be substandard

Exhibit A- we never actually get to see Mansell use this machine pistol in a real, non-montage combat scene. All we get to see him do is reload it cool and slow-like. Images courtesy Universal Pictures.

5/10 Nobody doesn’t meet me halfway.

In a world that seemingly has no weekends, Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk, who also produces) grinds out a living in a cushy management position at his father-in-law’s manufacturing plant. When his family is robbed one night, Mansell, a former special forces operative codenamed “Nobody,” decides to not slaughter the robbers as he easily could, losing the respect of his family and in-laws. When he realizes they accidentally took his daughter’s kitty-cat bracelet instead of just cash, Mansell tracks the robbers down and still doesn’t really hurt them, but then on the bus home, he encounters a gaggle of Russians who tell everyone to clear out so they can gang rape another passenger, and then and only then does Mansell let loose.

Little does Mansell know that one of the would-be rapists is the younger brother of Yulian Kuznetsov (Aleksei Serebryakov), an elite enforcer for the local bratva, who comes after Mansell and his family with everything he has. 

Nobody doesn’t exactly follow the “South Park” creators’ “but/therefore” storytelling principle. Events are random and disconnected, and Mansell never has any knowledge of or control over the consequences of his decisions. Things just sort of happen, and the story only makes sense on a subtextual level.

Nobody is the next movie in a lineage started by John Wick, which blew the doors off in 2014 with its deft worldbuilding and bold, wide-shot action sequences. Directed by his old stunt double, Chad Stahelski, the film was choreographed specifically around star Keanu Reeves’ martial arts abilities. In an environment of blockbusters that shy away from doing even the most basic stuntwork in painfully obvious ways that hurt the final product, the radical method of simply doing stunts and filming them stood out in a great way. Stahelski and co-director David Leitch split and put out John Wick: Chapter 2 and sister film Atomic Blonde in 2017. Stahelski is still hammering on the Wick series, with Chapter 3 releasing in 2019 and Chapters 4 and 5 scheduled for ‘22 and ‘23, while Leitch has brought his talents to more diverse projects. 

I mean…

Nobody, written by John Wick series writer Derek Kolstad and with Leitch as one of the listed producers, eagerly marketed itself as coming from Wick’s stock, and the similarities grow uncomfortably when the projector finally rolls. Nobody reads as a scene-for-scene remake of the first two Wick movies, with many scenes lifted straight out, and adds Atomic Blonde’s debriefing faming device – used much less thoughtfully – for good measure. They even lift John Wick: Chapter 3’s signature “Dream the Impossible Dream” music cue. 

Movies don’t need to be original, but this is asking John Wick fans to accept an awful lot, which is a real issue for a movie that seems to be marketed exclusively toward John Wick fans.

Where the main series immediately became very bisexual – John Wick: Chapter 2 is a repressed bisexual and lapsed Catholic who’s very worried about going to hell, and Atomic Blonde is a furiously bisexual ‘80s music video with no patience for your straight nonsense – Nobody gets back to its target audience of straight, middle-aged dads. In a lot of ways, it’s a love letter to them. Mansell, who’s spent his life jetting around the world, killing human beings and being paid vast sums of money, explicitly positions being a dad as a more romantic way of life and is ashamed by his capacity for violence. The film positions his restraint as genuinely noble, and the way it sets this against the pain of denying his identity is heartfelt.

The problem with Nobody is that the action leaves so much to be desired. Sound is a huge part of how violence in film hits, and a disturbing number of sounds are noticeably just a tick off from the impacts they’re supposed to line up with. It’s a massive, consistent problem that should have been easy to avoid. 

There’s also a noticeable lack of gore for a movie that really needs a significant grindhouse element.

Like the films it’s following, Nobody is choreographed around the physical capabilities of its star. Odenkirk has done a lot of media about old dogs learning new tricks, and he did put in the work for this, but he’s a 58 year old man who’d never done a fight scene in his life. Choreographing a movie specifically for him and choreographing a movie specifically for Reeves, who’s been doing his own stunts for 30 years, is not going to produce the same results. 

They do their best, but the movie quickly devolves into implying that Mansell is simply made of stone – he punches trenches into brick walls, and when other fighters land blows, which they do often, they recoil in pain. There end up being only two real brawls in the movie anyway, the other confrontations happen in cars or the deeply unsatisfying climatic shootout, in which Mansell and his allies meander casually through hails of fire as if they cannot be harmed. 

Nobody is a fun watch and represents a good filmmaking philosophy that desperately needs to proliferate further and faster, but a movie doesn’t deserve decent marks when it is so technically deficient and is such a direct and dramatic step down from the movies it is far too derivative of. 

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

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