man in suit with gold teeth

Lionsgate Movies/YouTube

The one problem with ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’: That embarrassing fatsuit role

Martial arts star Scott Adkins was unrecognizable in this tone-deaf villain role.

 

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Internet Culture

This post includes spoilers for John Wick: Chapter 4.

Along with being a masterpiece of action cinema, the John Wick franchise is notably diverse. Its international cast spans a wide variety of ages and ethnicities and includes the first nonbinary character (the Adjudicator in John Wick: Chapter 3) in an American blockbuster.

To a lesser extent, this inclusive attitude also covers stunt-centric roles, avoiding the Hollywood assumption that all skilled fighters need to look like Chris Evans or Dwayne Johnson. So it was disappointing to realize that one of Chapter 4‘s most noticeably atypical action roles, the German villain Killa, was actually performed in a fatsuit.

Action movie fans likely recognized Scott Adkins’ name in the credits; a martial arts star who follows in the footsteps of actors like Jean-Claude Van Damme. But even if you’re familiar with his work, you may not have recognized him onscreen. For John Wick: Chapter 4, he donned fake teeth, facial prosthetics, and a massive fatsuit, contrasting with Keanu Reeves’ slim physique during their propulsive brawl in a Berlin nightclub.

There’s already a lot of commentary on why fatsuits are insulting and discriminatory, often played for laughs or exploitation, in an industry where fat actors struggle to get meaningful roles. All of these problems are present here. But beyond that, Scott Adkins’ fatsuit goes against John Wick‘s greatest underlying strength: Its enthusiastic respect for stunt performers.

Directed by a former stuntman and stunt coordinator, Chad Stahelski, these movies always give the action performers their due, even in minor walk-on parts. Unlike the spate of shoddy blockbusters where action scenes are obscured by choppy edits and murky CGI, Stahelski revels in displaying the full extent of John Wick‘s stunt choreography. This joyful appreciation for the stunt actor’s craft is the backbone of the franchise—and it’s undercut by the choice to put Adkins in a fatsuit instead of just hiring a bigger actor for the role.

The main premise of this fight is pitting John Wick against an opponent who is twice his size, creating a different dynamic from most of the one-on-one fights. According to Stahelski, Killa was inspired by the rotund Hong Kong action star Sammo Hung in SPL (2005). However, there’s something pretty weird about paying tribute to an iconic martial artist by putting a skinny guy in a fatsuit to match his body type.

This scene might have worked even better if they’d cast an actor who fit the part, making a more effective demonstration of different physiques utilizing different combat styles. Stahelski certainly seems aware of this possibility in background roles like the Japanese hotel bouncers, suggesting he isn’t plagued by misconceptions about a fat actor’s ability to fight.

A likely explanation is that Stahelski thought that Sammo Hung and Scott Adkins might make for a fun combo, and then created a character with an appropriately over-the-top vibe for the John Wick universe. But the end result still creates a familiar problem: A thin actor doing promotional interviews about how grueling it was to apply and then perform in fatsuit prosthetics.

I suspect this character will age very poorly, very fast. The past couple of years have seen a visible turn in public opinion around fatsuits, the most recent example being The Whale and its resulting backlash. People are more aware of why this is a problem, and considering John Wick‘s reputation for pushing the boundaries of audience expectations for action cinema, Scott Adkins’ casting seems like a real missed opportunity.

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