At this point it’s truly hard to believe how incredible the ‘John Wick’ series continues to be. ‘Chapter 4’ hit theaters and it’s once again a non-stop feat of balletic action fantasy. Keanu Reeves and his long time stunt coordinator / now director Chad Stahelski have crafted an epic master class in logic/age-defying martial arts / gun-Fu magic. Intimidating runtime be damned, this fourth entry is far from a slog, and could serve as both a capper to or a springboard from this unlikely billion dollar franchise.
When 2014’s ‘John Wick’ landed, it was a modest theatrical hit for Reeves, at a bit of a lull in his career. The ‘Matrix’ movies seemed firmly in his rear view mirror and his forays into the exploration of his martial arts interests like ‘Man of Tai Chi’ and ‘47 Ronin’ proved to have diminishing returns. At first, ‘Wick’ seemed almost like a favor for his old friends Stahelski and David Leitch, who had designs on taking their stunt coordinating skills to the next level by directing a feature.
Likely due to the passion this team brought to the film, and clearly transferred on screen, the fan base for the original ‘John Wick’ grew significantly enough to warrant a sequel. Unlike many directionless sequels that are mere cash grabs on a hit, ‘Chapters 2 & 3’ built on the mythology of this assassin world just under society’s nose, ramping up the scope of the story and the action. While ‘Chapter 4’ continues this trend, there’s also something allegorical and almost mythical about this one.
Picking up some undetermined time after 2019’s “Parabellum” (still not entirely clear why ‘Chapter 3’ received a subtitle), Wick is fully recovered from what seemed like fateful wounds inflicted by the machinations of his frenemy Winston (Ian McShane mastering the wry and dapper NYC Continental Hotel Manager). As Wick does, he almost immediately gets himself back to #1 marked man status, in a desert scene straight out of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ where Reeves on horseback guns down a member of the High Table. The action moves to Japan, with Wick holed up at the Tokoyo Continental, sheltered by that hotel’s manager, his old friend Shimazu, played by stoic actor and martial arts legend Hiroyuki Sanada, along with a reluctant protector in Akira, Shimazu’s daughter and concierge, a potent warrior in her own right played by breakout Rina Sawayama. Of course this protection can’t last as the High Table’s newest poster boy, the preening, impeccably costumed Marquis (Bill Skarsgard playing a very different kind of menace than usual) susses Wick out via his other old friend, Caine, played by the playful martial arts legend Donnie Yen, one of, if not the best additions to this franchise yet.
In part due to the introductions of these additional compelling characters on top of the franchise’s returning players, ‘Chapter 4’ succeeds even more than its predecessors in many ways. The action here doesn’t exactly level up in comparison to the set pieces in ‘Chapter 3’, but they do serve to propel the story and they are staged in ways that frame Wick even more as a force of legend. In addition to the extended battle in Japan, there’s a fun sequence in a Berlin nightclub where Wick faces off against mixed martial artist Scott Adkins. This fight takes on a surreal effect as the club goers seem to all but ignore the violence around them as mere set dressing. The real draw though is the extended, almost hour-long finale extravaganza set amongst the streets and landmarks of Paris. This is where the myth of John Wick comes fully into focus, complete with an extended sequence set on the stairs of the Rue Foyatier that’s one of the most maddening, thrilling, challenging action sequences ever choreographed. Maybe the craziest aspect of ‘Chapter 4’ is how Reeves’ exhaustion is palpable, but one never gets the impression that he’s tired of the character and this world – neither is the audience . . .
Directed By: Chad Stahelski
Written By: Shay Hatten & Michael Finch
Running Time: 169 min.
* * * * (out of 4 stars) -OR- A