Some franchises wear out their welcome. However, “John Wick: Chapter 4” isn’t one of those. Instead, it’s elegant poetry in motion that is relentless in its bloodshed and intriguing in its expansive storytelling. So by building upon the foundation of its predecessors, the John Wick franchise rises to become one of this generation’s best action movie franchises while continuing to put its title character (Keanu Reeves) in a grueling uphill battle and bringing new twists that deepen its mythology.
For the past four films, John Wick has spent his journey being beaten, shot, slashed, and thrown out of buildings. And while he’s walked away from it, there’s no double it has taken a mental and physical toll on him. But that makes this franchise so fascinating. And so what started out as an action film about a former assassin drawn back into a deadly business because Russian mobsters decided to rob him and kill his dog – a final gift from his dying wife – has elevated to something more. So not only are we drawn to the intense fight choreography and creative gunplay, but we also peel back at a mysterious world that captivates us with its vintage style and respect for being sleek and cool.
With a high price that continues to increase with every waking hour on his head, John Wick prepares to exact his revenge on the High table. In doing so, he catches the attention of Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård), a sadistic high-ranking member of the High table. He uses his power to destroy everything that John Wick considers sacred. What happens next sets off a chain of events that sees Wick traveling across the globe while leaving a high body count.
If anything, fans who have been following Wick recognize that he is a proficient killing machine that is very human. Remember, this all started with him getting revenge on those who took the last vestige of light away from him. Since then, he’s been drawn back into the world that he thought he walked away from over and over again. So it would be a little difficult to understand what is already a very complex mythology if one were to jump into the film starting at “John Wick: Chapter 4,” even if the plot is kept at a minimum.
Yet, “John Wick: Chapter 4” reaches a conundrum of sorts. Starting off as a revenge actioner with a stoically charming Reeves as the title assassin proved economical. As the mythology expanded with each installment, it not only upped the fight choreography, gunplay, and stuntwork, but it also complicated the story with its new rules of how the High table works and its purpose within the world. Then again, this was never meant to be grounded. The films change the rules as much as they increase the bounty on John Wick’s head. And yet, it works in the franchise’s favor. The world-building gives us another look at an enigmatic assassination institution. The epic action sequences match its grandiose sleek, stylish look and its respect for vintage aesthetics.
And since “John Wick: Chapter 4” is much more of a global affair, characters make calculated moves to curry favor. For John Wick, he seeks temporary refuge or restoration of familial bonds. But for Mariqus, he terminates by destroying everything John Wick holds dear or hiring other assassins like Caine (Donnie Yen). Caine is the anthesis of John. He was able to get out, but at a price. And yet, he is at peace with that decision. However, like John, he is forced back into the world he thought he could leave because of a circumstance beyond his control. Such a devious move by Mariqus puts Caine in an impossible decision where he has to fight old allies like Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada), owner of the neon-lit Osaka Continental – a place whose design is just as cool as its sharply-dressed patrons. Rina Sawayama’s Rina Koji, the daughter, and concierge of the Osaka Continental is a welcomed addition to the franchise as she is just as lethal with a sword as she is with her words. And the Nobody (Shamier Anderson), an assassin with questionable trustworthiness, only adds to the dynamics between himself, John Wick, and Caine.
Pitting the three assassins, all of whom have differing fight styles, together makes for an entertaining action sequence. This is especially true when they are off on a globetrotting pursuit. Of which is a lovely table setting for the following incredible fight sequence. The exotic backdrops serving as locations for fights between these characters take their inspiration from classic fighting games like Street Fighter and Tekken. Watching John fight a gang of assassins in the Osaka Continental is a thing of beauty because the gorgeous designs are juxtaposed with the dynamic action of John Wick flailing nunchucks and Caine whimsically slaying foes with his hidden blade. Another standout fight takes at a Berlin nightclub, where background dancers get lost in the music as thousands of gallons of water fall around them. Another awesome fight takes place below the many steps of a Paris church. Of course, one can’t watch a “John Wick” film without having a shootout. And while plenty of bullets fly, an overhead oner is a standout scene that is sure to be long remembered by those who love action movies.
So many of the fights fall into this beautiful rhythm that matches the pace and tones of the music. The idea shines through when DJ (Marie Pierra Kakoma) plays an assortment of music from Martha and the Vandellas’s iconic “No Where to Run To” or Marie Laforêt’s cover of The Rolling Stones’ rocking “Paint it, Black” to help guide assassins – and the audience – track John as he travels through Paris landmarks like the Arc de Triomphe and Saint-Eustache Church.
Ever the kind and gracious actor, Reeves takes a physical and emotional beating while giving the supporting players the space they need to develop and shine. The action isn’t just straight-up action. There’s also a bit of playfulness woven into the choreography to lighten things up and keep things from growing stale. His presence is that right amount of cool and modest. He’s the protagonist who fights an uphill battle after taking a vicious beating. And though we can empathize with John’s search for release from being hunted by the High Table, Shay Hatten and Michael Finch’s script gives some of the returning characters like Lance Reddick’s Charon, Laurence Fishburne’s BOwery King, and Ian McShane’s Winston provide some exposition. Each one of them helps to push the film forward in unexpected directions.
Beyond its incredible action and stylishly cool visuals, “John Wick: Chapter 4” expands upon a rich mythology of an astonishing franchise while upping the ante on stunt work. Even if the fourth installment is incredibly long in its runtime, it is justified by its beautiful fight choreography and gunplay. And even if some of its plotting may be clunky, the film reminds us just to have fun. And really, what more could you ask for.
“John Wick: Chapter 4” opens in theaters on Friday, March 24.