‘John Wick: Chapter 4’- Film Review: A Wickedly Great Fourth Installment

When you look at the progression of the John Wick franchise, I think it’s easy to say this has become one of the most consistent action franchises we’ve ever had. Seeing the original back in 2014, I thought it was going to be some lame action revenge thriller that would waste time on a fall afternoon—quite the opposite, as it quickly became a sleeper hit that was wickedly fun (pun intended) and rejuvenated Keanu Reeves’ career. Everybody loved it, so two rad sequels followed it in their own right: 2017’s Chapter 2 and 2019’s Chapter 3 – Parabellum. I enjoyed them both, but the first holds the crown as the best for its grounded simplicity. With four years in-between, Reeves and director Chad Stahelski go for another round with John Wick: Chapter 4, which is one of the few sequels this year that has nowhere to go but up. Here, it doesn’t disappoint in kicking ass. Yet, with four movies deep, these men have to know by now there’s no way of killing the embodiment of God. 

What’s the Story: With the price on his head ever increasing, John Wick (Reeves) uncovers a path to defeating The High Table. But before he can earn his freedom, Wick must face off against a new enemy with powerful alliances across the globe and forces that turn old friends into foes.

You know it will be a hit when reviews for the latest sequel appear weeks in advance. Sometimes that can compromise the experience with the hype surrounding it, but this keeps its promise of being bolder even more than the third film. It keeps the plot simple enough to withstand the focus in continuing this plot thread without starting a new story with a fresh start. Maintaining unrealistic things has become the saga’s bread and butter with the mythology of this world and the High Table that continues hunting Wick through every step. Writers Michael Finch and Shay Hatten (longtime writer Derek Kolstad didn’t write the script) know that the body count’s stacking high is all that matters and not becoming overly complicated when involved in John’s life. To put it lightly with the main hero on this violent journey, when you want peace, it has to come with consequences, no matter the cost.

Besides Reeves, I and everyone else go into these movies hoping to get the best out of the action. And seeing incredible action displayed on the screen is like waking up on Christmas morning filled with joy. Simply put, they’re amazing, topping each other beautifully and brutally. They keep getting more insane after the next without becoming repetitive, where you’re there to watch Wick shoot bad guys with a gun or a weapon of choice near his sighting (swords, nun chucks). Similar to the previous voyage of escaping danger, debriefing must be put on hold during this one because someone can get hurt several times while still living. Do I care? Given that it’s a John Wick movie, it didn’t matter when the fight choreography hit. I wanted more because some sequences ran on for over ten minutes.

Adding to the unbeatable style from Dan Laustsen’s neon-soaked cinematography and Kevin Kavanagh’s production design to capture your attention, my eyes couldn’t be taken off the screen when it went from a crazy fight at the Arc de Triomphe, followed by an incredible overhead tracking shot inside an abandoned building that resembles a video game (in a good way), to a fight on a staircase I haven’t seen done before. That could’ve been exhausting, but it shows Stahelski hasn’t lost touch in directing action with care. Sitting through this is enough to have the yearly discussion for the Academy to finally have a Best Stunts category for the unsung heroes of making these films indeed come to life.  

As the titular assassin, Reeves could do this in his sleep. Believe it or not, this actor is pushing 60 years old, and Reeves still owns his craft in making this character forward with stakes, even when we all know he’s not trying to be the greatest actor in the world. Since all he had to convey was his rage, competing with Tom Cruise to show how badass he could be, he didn’t speak much speech. So I will say “yeah” as he says it here. The rest of the supporting cast know what they’re doing by now, like Ian McShane as Winston and Lawerence Fishburne as the Bowery King. But I was very impressed with the new characters they brought. Both Donnie Yen as Caine, a blind assassin who used to be acquainted with John, and Shamier Anderson as a bounty hunter called Mr. Nobody/ Tracker and his adorably deadly German Shepard (because it isn’t a John Wick movie without one) captivated the screen. Of course, having Yen in your film will lend major credibility. He also the second time he portrayed a skilled blind man following Rogue One. Yen also provided my favorite line delivery of the year so far.

Although Bill Skarsgård’s character, the Marquis Vincent de Gramont, has a calm demeanor and doesn’t exhibit the same level of craziness as the other villains we’ve met (even with a questionable French accent), he will do anything to see John fail. British pop star Rina Sawayama makes her acting debut as Shimazu’s (Hiroyuki Sanada) daughter Akira. After this, I desperately can’t wait to see Sawayama in more films, especially in action. Also, if you haven’t listened to her music, take time out of your day to listen to her last album, “Hold The Girl,” you’ll thank me later. And I must mention Lance Reddick, who reprises her role as the concierge Charon. Unfortunately, Riddick unexpectedly passed away a week before the film’s release and will be missed dearly. 

With 169 minutes, this John Wick movie is the longest one yet. The first movie is the shortest, and each one goes progressively longer; when I heard it, that runtime was already in the back of my mind. I can occasionally trust someone when they claim that an almost three-hour movie doesn’t feel that long, but sometimes I can’t. According to Stahelski in a recent interview, the original time was close to four. Since we’re introducing the new characters and John isn’t really involved, the first half was probably the slowest to get through. Hours passed before I realized this might be the source of my fatigue that day. Although there is a lot of material to sit through, once the action picks back up, it rarely stops becoming better and bigger. 

Calling it the best action movie in years right up there with Mission: Impossible- Fallout or Mad Max: Fury Road is too early to say since it’s one I hope to catch in theaters once more (maybe in IMAX?). But, on an action scale, it’s 100% up there. With that said, there’s still a place in my heart for the original since the surprise came out of nowhere. But I feel confident in saying this might be the best sequel out of the three, and who knows where it’ll go next to top what we got here. 

In the end, John Wick: Chapter 4 proves why this franchise is entertaining as hell and delivers what fans came to see. At nearly three hours, it never disappoints with showcasing its inventive action set pieces and stunning cinematography and set design. Keanu Reeves still rules, but Donnie Yen and Shamier Anderson were incredible. Did it need to be this long? Not necessarily, but it’s all worth it when the payoff hits.

Grade: [B+]

John Wick: Chapter 4 is now playing in theaters nationwide| Rated R for pervasive strong violence and some language| Runtime: 169 Minutes| Studio: Lionsgate

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