By George Bate & Josh Reilly B.
Everyone’s favorite dog-loving, suit-wearing, pistol-wielding badass returns for an epic fourth outing. John Wick: Chapter 4, which recently premiered at this year’s South By Southwest Film Festival, sees Keanu Reeves reprise his role as the elite assassin, now on the run from the High Table and its villainous head Marquis Vincent de Gramont (played by Bill Skarsgård) for his prior violations of their organization’s rules.
In determining the great action movies of the century so far, the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road and Mission: Impossible – Fallout come to mind. Now, it’s clear there is another worthy addition to this list – John Wick: Chapter 4. The franchise’s fourth film takes everything exceptional about the prior installments and builds upon it, while leaving behind some of the clunkier elements that bogged down parts of John Wick: Chapter 2 and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. At a whopping 169 minutes, John Wick: Chapter 4 is easily the longest film in the franchise and one of the longest action movies of all time. The overwhelming majority of the fourth John Wick film is dedicated to the fist fights, blade duels, and shootouts that make the John Wick movies so appealing and continues to get moviegoers yearning for more. This strategy could have easily gone awry, with the film potentially feeling bloated and overstuffed at nearly three hours. But, Chapter 4 rarely overstays its welcome. Indeed, it’s a testament to Keanu Reeves’ commanding performance, the confident direction from Chad Stahleski, and the stunning stunt coordination that John Wick: Chapter 4 remains engaging from start to finish. In more critically evaluating the film, sure, it may have benefitted from trimming 15-20 minutes off its runtime, but determining which 15-20 minutes would be trimmed is an impossible task.
Each and every action sequence is meticulously constructed. The set-pieces are more sprawling than ever before, but never become unwieldy or lose the intimacy of the franchise’s action dating back to the original John Wick. Globe trotting like a James Bond film, John Wick: Chapter 4 has such stunning variety in its locations that every action sequence stands out so uniquely. From an intense shootout in the Osaka Continental Hotel to a tense fist fight in a neo-noir Berlin club, each action set-piece feels so distinct and exhibits a personality of its own. Cinematography from Dan Laustsen and a booming, techno score from Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard add a grandiose intensity to the action, making for a three-hour thrill ride that few can compete with. Part of the reason the film doesn’t seldom overstays its welcome is because the action sequences continually improve upon one another. Stahleski, Reeves, and company seem determined to make every action scene more immersive, breathtaking, and creative than the last. This is perhaps best exemplified by a string of connected setpieces in the film’s final act set in different iconic locations of Paris. Wick fights off seemingly hundreds of assassins in an elaborate shootout in Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, a battle that would be an epic conclusion to any action film. But, John Wick: Chapter 4 isn’t done there. It then moves to another iconic part of Paris, and then to another iconic part of Paris, all of which contain a distinct and captivating action sequence.
Perhaps most importantly in discussing the film’s action, however, is the unrelenting dedication of Keanu Reeves. There’s no John Wick without Keanu Reeves in that the franchise wouldn’t have the same impact if it wasn’t spearheaded by someone so charismatic, likable, and invested in delivering authentic action to the big screen. By the end of the 169 minute film, it’s simply stunning to think of the amount of intricate preparation Reeves put in in order to make the film so gripping and its action so breathtaking (get the reference?).
In typical John Wick fashion, Reeves is accompanied by a slew of supporting actors playing other extraordinary assassins. The most prominent supporting actor in this fourth installment is Donnie Yen, who plays a blind assassin named Caine tasked with killing his friend Wick. Amidst the myriad of supporting players in each John Wick film, Yen is easily the best addition to the franchise and is finally an opponent worthy of Reeves’ character. Yen’s expertise as a world-renowned martial artist shines through every scene he is in, while his character’s blindness adds a whole other dimension to Yen’s impressive fight choreography. Yen also delivers the film’s best one-liners, and brings such unique charisma and swagger to the movie.
If Reeves and Yen are the two primary opposing forces in the film, Shamier Anderson’s Mr. Nobody is unexpectedly the character given the most attention beyond the two leads. While initially feeling somewhat like an out-of-place addition, Anderson certainly grows in prominence as the film progresses. There’s also a nice touch with Anderson’s assassin dog and how this ties back to John Wick’s connection to dogs from the first film.
Unfortunately, Bill Skarsgård is rather miscast as the lead villain. Skarsgård plays the Marquis, a composed and arrogant French member of the High Table who is determined to bring an end to John Wick. Chapter 4 would have benefitted from a more intimidating villainous presence, and one without such an awkward and forced French accent. There’s also a disconnect with the intensity of the villain’s pursuit of John Wick and the motivations underlying his behavior. That is, previous John Wick villains have had a personal vendetta against Reeves’ character, which made their characters more compelling and their anger against Wick more understandable. Skarsgård’s villain, however, lacks a personal connection to John Wick and, ultimately, is more of a plot device than a character.
On the villainous side of things, Scott Adkins makes for a decidedly different and completely ludicrous opponent for John Wick. Adkins, famous for his work in martial arts and the Undisputed franchise, plays Killa, the obese head of the German Table with gold teeth, kung fu abilities, and the personality of a James Bond villain. Adkins is brilliantly over-the-top and absurd in his limited role, contributing significantly to some of the film’s most humorous scenes.
John Wick has always stood out among other action franchises due to its world-building inclinations and accompanying heightened tone, something Chapter 4 excels at once again. While Chapters 2 and 3 were more heavy-handed with their mythology and were bogged down by unnecessarily convoluted narratives, Chapter 4 presents a more streamlined approach akin to the brilliance of the first John Wick film. Information about the High Table, the Continental hotels, and the rituals of the organization are delivered seamlessly and without ever taking away from the simplicity of the film’s narrative. With a spin-off film starring Ana de Armas titled Ballerina and a television series about the Continental Hotel in development, hopefully the John Wick franchise will stick to the formula on display in the first film and this most recent chapter – one characterized by exceptional action, streamlined and approachable narratives, and approachable worldbuilding.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is a globe-trotting, breathtaking 169 minutes of meticulously constructed action sequences that make it one of the best action movies of the 21st century. A streamlined narrative approach discrepant from the more convoluted storytelling of the previous two films, in addition to some subtle and intelligent world-building, means Chapter 4 returns to the blissful simplicity of the franchise’s first installment, while simultaneously becoming bigger and more sprawling than ever. Keanu Reeves is characteristically charismatic, silent, and dedicated to his craft as the titular assassin, while Donnie Yen and Scott Adkins shine in supporting roles. Although it may overstay its welcome for some, John Wick: Chapter 4 is an undoubted achievement of the action genre and one that demands viewing in the theater.