John Wick: Chapter 4 Kills Any Doubt

Keanu Reeves as John Wick in John Wick 4. Photo Credit: Murray Close

John Wick: Chapter 4 rides into theaters with relentless drive. Despite being the franchise’s fourth installment, the series still has fuel in the tank. Although the fictional universe it inhabits is starting to stretch thin, action remains the focal point for this iconic character. Keanu Reeves continues to be the unstoppable bogeyman all bad people fear, yet the adventure remains astonishingly suspenseful.

The movie picks up a little while after the previous film. A wounded Wick has finally healed and is ready to unleash his worst to escape from the mysterious High Table. Almost immediately stakes are raised leaving him with nowhere to run to and nowhere to hide. Leading this scorched-earth extermination effort is the odious Marquis, a new villain played by Bill Skarsgård. John Wick: Chapter 4 promises that every attempt to find peace, of any kind, is pointless. Wick is assured his fate is sealed. Yet, that’s never been something to stop this antihero.

Keanu Reeves in the iconic all black suit he wears in all the John Wick films.
Keanu Reeves as John Wick in John Wick: Chapter 4. Photo Credit: Murray Close

Action remains the focus of the film. However, the movie wisely doesn’t deliver at a breakneck pace. Director Chad Stahelski steers a script by Shay Hatten and Michael Finch which features incredible action set pieces, but in-between are quieter moments allowing for a dynamic range furthering the plot and deepening characters. In other words, audiences can catch their breath before the next bombastic battle ensues making the action more thrilling.

One might complain there’s no tension in a series with four films in the franchise. Audiences expect Keanu Reeves to prevail at this point. The thing is even when anticipating victory part of the thrill in John Wick: Chapter 4 is seeing how exactly he survives. The stylized scramble combat seen throughout the series has always been great at conveying a sense of desperation. This installment is no different, and at times, there are moments when it feels like Wick might lose.

That’s thanks in no small part to the inclusion of marital arts legend Donnie Yen. He plays Caine, an assassin who, not unlike Wick, accepted a Faustian bargain for freedom. Yen carries himself throughout the film with a calm coolness while remaining ruthless despite his character’s reluctance. Caine comes across as someone more than capable of killing Wick, yet he isn’t a bloodthirsty murderer which makes his efforts oddly tragic.

Donnie Yen in dark suit and sunglasses prowling a trophy room full of Japanese art as the blind assassin Caine in John Wick: Chapter 4
Donnie Yen as Caine in John Wick: Chapter 4. Photo Credit: Murray Close

That same sense of tragedy is mirrored in Reeves’s portrayal. He plays Wick as an exhausted individual. This isn’t the snarling gimme-a-gun guy from previous films. This is a person relentlessly determined to find any kind of end. But that doesn’t mean rolling over — there’s still a lot of fight left in this dog.

Scott Rogers led five fight choreographers and stunt coordinators, crafting fourteen action sequences of brutal brilliance. More than any previous John Wick movie, it helps justify the nearly three-hour runtime. Fortunately, John Wick: Chapter 4 doesn’t feel as long as it is. Time flies when having fun, and this rollercoaster is a joy.

John Wick: Chapter 4 continues the series habit of having a soundscape that adds to the action. Music is often an energetic electronic groove. Meanwhile, the audio in general makes theater audiences feel every bludgeoning beatdown. In addition, director of photography Dan Laustsen returns to provide the amazing lighting he made possible in John Wick: Chapter 2 and Parabellum. It all combines into a stylized world of operatic brutality.

Natalia Tena as Katia in John Wick: Chapter 4 stares in the distance.
Natalia Tena as Katia in John Wick: Chapter 4. Photo Credit: Murray Close

As viewers plunge into that cinematic landscape, John Wick: Chapter 4 employs some wonderfully grandiose and unsubtle settings. For instance, the baroque home of the Marquis emphasizing his opulence. Also adding drama is the introduction of several new characters. Thanks to the 169-minute runtime, there’s enough room for each to develop just enough. This continues the John Wick tradition of masterfully minimal storytelling.

It doesn’t hurt that each performer is solid, some damn near perfect. Shimazu, manager of the Osaka Continental, is played by Hiroyuki Sanada with the regal severity of a dangerous but dignified person. In contrast, Natalia Tena plays Katia, an equally aristocratic individual, high up in the mysterious world of this cinematic universe, yet her character is more gutter shark than poetic samurai. Such simple variations help make characters distinct. Finally, there is the Tracker, always accompanied by his faithful Belgian Malinois. It wouldn’t be a John Wick movie without a dog.

Solidly portrayed by Shamier Anderson, the Tracker helps deepen an already expanded lore. If John Wick: Chapter 4 stumbles at all it’s in the tendency of these sequels to keep growing the mythology. Adding rituals and rules is no problem, but at this point in the franchise, it seems like most of the world are assassins, who only seem to kill one another, or the people who provide them with whatever they need. Still, suspension of disbelief should easily overcome such nitpicking.

Bill Skarsgård in a red smoking jacket and black waistcoat, portraying the odious Marquis, an opulent, ruthless aristocrat in John Wick: Chapter 4.
Bill Skarsgård as Marquis in John Wick: Chapter 4. Photo Credit: Murray Close

Combat choreography not only keeps action edge-of-the-seat engaging but gives each character a visually distinct style. Smart pacing allows John Wick: Chapter 4 to leave audiences breathless, while offering opportunities to get ready for the next launch of this catapult bungee. Such lulls, for lack of a better word, give the story time to develop. However, they also provide chances to explore motivations, particularly the recurring theme of endings.

That’s not to say John Wick: Chapter 4 is a philosophical film. It’s wonderfully unsubtle while endeavoring to have some sentimentality. John Wick: Chapter 4 is a solid installment in an ongoing action opera always raising the bar.

Written by Jay Rohr

J. Rohr is a Chicago native with a taste for history and wandering the city at odd hours. In order to deal with the more corrosive aspects of everyday life he writes the blog and makes music in the band Beerfinger. His Twitter babble can be found @JackBlankHSH.

Leave a Reply

Film Obsessive welcomes your comments. All submissions are moderated. Replies including personal attacks, spam, and other offensive remarks will not be published. Email addresses will not be visible on published comments.

A conductor closes her eyes with a smile to the music.

Barbara VanDenburgh brings TAR to the Cinephile Hissy Fit Podcast

Malcolm McDowell as Timofeyev, looking through a windowpane.

The Assassin of the Tsar: Remastered and Re-Released