Waiter, There’s a Fat Suit in My ‘John Wick’ Sequel
Et tu, 'John Wick'?
Believe everything you’ve heard online and from that one guy in your office who is chronically on Reddit. John Wick: Chapter 4 is the best installment in the franchise since the first John Wick. From the dramatic introduction featuring a Shakespearean prologue recited by Laurence Fishburne to the relentless final act in which Keanu Reeves’ exhausted assassin finally becomes more myth than man, John Wick 4 is truly epic. It is pure theatre; a Grand Guignol opera drenched in neon. Also: It RULES.
I love the John Wick franchise, which is sort of like Mission: Impossible for introverts who appreciate martial arts. I love Keanu Reeves, an actor who feels perpetually frozen in the year 1999 and has given our culture so many bangers: Point Break. My Own Private Idaho. Constantine. The Matrix—ever heard of it?!?! And the piece de resistance: the John Wick movies, a series of escalating action-melodramas, each more violent and elaborate than the last. I love that John Wick can get hit by more than a dozen moving vehicles and still manage to climb 300 stairs at the Sacre Coeur. I couldn’t do that after being hit by no cars.
Wanna know what I do not love? A fat suit. Which is pretty much the last thing I expected to see in a nearly three-hour epic about a hot, sad assassin fighting a bunch of other hot assassins across multiple continents. To paraphrase Nicole Kidman, the patron saint of cinéma, we come to this place for magic. I come to the John Wick franchise to laugh, to cheer, and to gasp in awe of the intricate fight choreography. Because I need that. The last thing I need is to see another thin, conventionally attractive actor in a G.D. fat suit.
But there I was, watching Keanu Reeves shoot and kick his way through an absolute horde of extremely skilled combatants in a desperate bid to free himself from the High Table and its new corporate overlord (a very fun Bill Skarsgård), when I found myself confronted with the spectre of the not-too-distant awards season past. During the middle stretch of the film, John Wick has to—get this—kill a guy so that the Russian crime family will adopt him and he can formally request a duel with Marquis de Gramont, the aforementioned overlord.
John’s target is a German crime boss named Killa who owns a nightclub where the theme seems to be “the wet parts of every dance movie.” He’s clearly a horrible business owner because this place is just a class-action lawsuit waiting to happen. Killa is played by Scott Adkins, a talented martial artist and action star who looks like this:
When we meet him in John Wick 4, however, Adkins is engulfed in prosthetics and a fat suit. He is—as the headlines love to breathlessly proclaim every time an actor puts on a fat suit—almost unrecognizable. Killa’s body size is presented as an affectation, not unlike the gold caps on his teeth and his affinity for gambling. He sweats profusely and often reaches for an inhaler, which the movie deploys for comedic effect. It worked for about half the people in my audience. I assume the other half either clocked it as an outdated, lazy comedic trope or, like me, they were silently trying to figure out why the guy in the fat suit looked so damn familiar.
Thank god I recently watched The Whale, or I might not have been able to overcome my nausea and see this slimey Berlin nightclub owner as a human being. We live in a post-Whale society now. So why were audience members so audibly amused by this man doing fight choreo in a fat suit? I don’t recall him saying anything particularly funny. Surely they were not laughing at the fat man for being a big ol’ fat man; not in Brendan Fraser’s America!
Fat suits suck for several reasons. They suggest that weight is a mutable quality that can be changed at will; that we can choose our body size the way we might choose a matching tie or a sensible shoe. If the pharmaceutical industry has its way, it will be—at least temporarily. And then fat people will become a thing of the past, like retirement plans or good episodes of The Simpsons. We understand the fat suit as a prosthetic, not unlike Nicole Kidman’s nose in The Hours or Nicolas Cage’s many hairpieces, and just as senseless. Fat suits are costumes, and they give us permission to see fatness as a temporary physical state chosen by the wearer. They allow actors to treat fatness as a costume without being burdened by the experience of actually living in a body that is openly ridiculed, stigmatized, and marginalized.
But the fat suit in John Wick 4 isn’t bad in the same way the fat suit in The Whale is bad. It still reinforces stereotypes (what with the inhaler and all), but the real bummer about it is how senseless it is in this movie. During the film’s first extended fight sequence, John Wick, Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada), and the employees of the Osaka Continental are battling a cornucopia of High Table assassins. There are lithe martial artists, Sumo wrestlers (also featured in the second film), muscular tall folks wielding guns, and big, beefy professional wrestler and MMA types—most of whom, it should be noted, have no particular gender expression. It’s just tailored suits and weapons as far as the eye can see.
Director Chad Stahelski, who has an extensive background in stunt work and martial arts and worked for years as Reeves’ stunt double. His experience is blatant in the intricate choreography, and the intense gun training each actor goes through is apparent in the way they hold and fire their guns. Listen, I think guns are stupid as hell and my mom calls me a “bleeding heart liberal,” so I’m just shocked as anyone that I love a bunch of movies about gun violence directed by some guy named Chad.
But over the course of four films, we’ve seen people of all shapes and sizes and skin colors kick exceptional amounts of ass, often without concern for something as irrelevant as gender. And in John Wick 4 specifically, Stahelski continues to demonstrate an understanding of fighting as something that isn’t limited by physical or biological attributes. Anyone can be really good at fighting.
In a movie that also features beefy boys and heavies who are actually heavy and friggin’ Sumo wrestlers, why is it that Stahelski decided to put Scott Adkins in a fat suit? Darren Aronofsky claimed that he couldn’t cast a real fat actor to play the lead in The Whale because the role was too physically demanding—despite the fact that the protagonist, Charlie, spends most of the film immobile on a couch. Was it the scene in which Charlie furiously masturbates himself into a cardiac event, or the one where he frantically makes a jelly sandwich with pizza slices for bread?
John Wick 4 proves numerous times in the first half-hour alone that there are people in larger bodies who are perfectly capable of performing physically demanding fight choreography and stunts. The only reason to put Scott Adkins in a fat suit is to convey something about his character, and because we’ve already seen that guys of his size can do some real damage, that something can’t possibly be that he’s not threatening. Taken as a piece with the hideous capped teeth, the asthma inhaler, and his gluttonous gestures, we’re obviously meant to think that Killa is disgusting. There are plenty of ways to convey the greediness and sliminess of his character that don’t encourage associations between weight and morality. The ugly gold teeth and bad haircut do a pretty good job, but you could also just, you know, write the damn character.
I still love John Wick, and Chapter 4 is a remarkable accomplishment, but I come to this place for magic. And there is nothing magical about a guy in a fat suit.
(featured image: Lionsgate)
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