It seems the Kolchaks and Stahleskis have every chance of succeeding where Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp has recently floundered; in the unapologetically unreconstituted, muscular action genre (albeit EuropaCorp’s great error was bankrolling Besson’s folly Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets with a couple of chemistry-free, charisma-free leads). That doesn’t make their fare exclusively male by any means – see Atomic Blonde, and Kate – but they betray essentially minimal interest in refining or repurposing their fare to vouch wholesale for Hollywood’s current presiding and prescriptive socio-political interests. Indeed, I spent most of Nobody expecting its Mr and Mrs Smith shoe to drop, whereby Becca (Connie Nielsen) the wife of Hutch (Bob Odenkirk), turns out to be every bit as kick ass as hubby. But it doesn’t happen. Maybe in the sequel, then.
Derek Kolstad had his name on all three John Wick screenplays, so he knows his action beats, and he knows the best way to tell a hero tale is to have the odds stacked against him/her. Or did. It’s a reason John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum falters – particularly during the Halle Berry section – as things become just a little tooeasy. And so, in due course, it is here. Nobody is lean and direct, a refreshing ninety minutes in length, and Ilya Naishuller effectively exorcises the rank memory of Hardcore Henry – I haven’t seen it, no; the trailer was quite enough – with precisely shot and edited action sequences frequently lent a classical veneer through the use of tracks from the likes of Nina Simone, Andy Williams, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole and Tchaikovsky.
It’s only during the last third that Nobody loses something of its gumption, satisfied to transition into more of an ensemble affair, complete with indiscriminate machine gunfire mowing down swathes of bad guys (Kolstad favourites Russians – yes, it’s that old school) willy nilly. Before that, Odenkirk’s ex-auditor, now a family man living a quiet life, breaks cover when he attempts to retrieve his daughter’s Kitty Cat bracelet after an armed break-in (it turns out simply to have been mislaid). It’s his subsequent intervention on a bus invaded by odious types that triggers the eruption of his world, however, since one of his victims is the brother of crime lord Yulian Kuznetsov (Aleksei Serebryakov, more than matching Odenkirk in the charisma stakes and bringing palpable threat to bear too).
Before long, Hutch is fending off all manner of assassination attempts in order to keep his family and extended family safe. The latter turn out to include dad Christopher Lloyd and brother RZA. It’s particularly nice to see Lloyd on screen again, nonchalantly shotgunning assassins while watching TV. But I couldn’t help feel Kolstad resorts to this Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade element too soon; the first instalment should have been Hutch facing his adversaries solo. For the first hour, Nobody suggested it might be up to the standard of the first two John Wicks, but it stumbles with the wall-to-wall action that follows, offering too few suspense setups amid the mayhem of explosions and shootings.
Nevertheless, the movie rarely puts a foot wrong up to that point, carefully nursing the opening break-in, such that Hutch receives all-round mild reproof for holding back from doing his manly duty and whooping the intruders’ arses (from police, from his brother-in-law, and from his father-in-law & boss, the formidable Michael Ironside). This is grist to the mill of Hutch’s turning worm, even though we know he’s no such thing (the framing device finds him in a police interview).
Hutch may be an unstoppable killing machine once unleashed, but there’s an emphasis on John McClane fallibility too (even though knifings and pummellings conspicuously fail to stop him in his tracks). There are nice humorous touches too, such as him continually attempting to explain his backstory only for his audience to die on him. He and Yulian are really the same guy – “You came to my house, which you know, you DON’T fucking do!” – it’s simply that one rejected the direct diktats and settled instead for falling in line with the average Schmoes. The extent to which Becca has been involved in his old life is left open for debate, but I’m sure Nielsen took her meagre role hopeful she’ll be serviced with some action beats in any (probably quite likely) sequel.
The idea that everyday life is a façade, an endless routine of fakery, a veneer disguising whatever is really going on, is about as much as you can glean in broader subtext from Nobody, but it’s enough that Hutch is intent on puncturing that, ensuring he becomes the man he feels he is. Notably, this was Odenkirk’s idea. Odenkirk, of course, made a big thing of being double jabbed on the set of Better Call, Saul, leading to suggestions this might have been at the root of his heart attack a few months later. Smoke and fire, but there’s also the possibility that the whole thing was illusory, à la Oscar-winning Ant’s shot, and that it was designed to send a message of “Don’t worry about side effects, Bob’s fighting fit”. Unlike DMX. Perhaps the Elite are simply Breaking Bad fans.
If John Wick is 87North’s equivalent to the Taken franchise, then Nobody is probably closer to its Transporter (as opposed to a 3 Days to Kill). Going forward, they’re angling to extend their reach with a number of remakes including Kung Fu and Highlander, and it certainly looks as if they’re firing on all cylinders. Well, give or take those crucial plot beats.