John Wick 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.
John Wick Chapter 4 is the latest film in the blockbuster action franchise. Once again written and directed by Chad Stahelski, it sees Keanu Reeves’ titular assassin still on the run, with the hunt this time choreographed by the Marquis de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård) and led by Caine, a blind, sword wielding assassin and old friend of Wick’s.
I’ve been quite a fan of the previous John Wick films but haven’t seemed to find the spark most of their outspoken fans have. However, and I say this without hyperbole, John Wick Chapter 4 deserves a solid place somewhere in the discussion of the action genre’s all-time greats.
The film is a love letter to cinema, both action and otherwise, opening with an homage to Lawrence of Arabia and continuing on that trend riffing on everything from Zatoichi (and other classic samurai films), Enter the Dragon (Keanu’s use of nunchaku here is more appealing to me than Bruce Lee’s on any day of the week), The Warriors and more. It’s sprinkled with both obvious tributes and under the radar, detailed references for true genre fans to enjoy, while still standing as an enjoyable, accessible Hollywood blockbuster that will work for viewers with little to no reference points. This is pastiche in its purest form and yet it’s also fantastic as a fresh, standalone experience.
The fourth instalment of this franchise organically raises the scope and scale of a series already invested in globetrotting and world building, and does so in a way that feels sharper, more enjoyable and more authentic than its contemporaries such as the Mission Impossible franchise (not a slight, they’re fantastic) or the Fast & The Furious series (notably less fantastic).
Many have noted the runtime of this film, an exceptional 169 minutes, but one won’t feel a second of this admittedly long runtime. There’s almost no fat on the film. There are some characters who don’t add much to the overall piece, but they’re no burden, and the scenes they inhabit are generally un-trimmable too.
John Wick Chapter 4 moves with the pacing of a much leaner work and there’s always a treat for the eyes on screen. The film is visually stunning; it’s heavily stylised, but in a way that serves, rather than distracts, with phenomenal use of colour, locations, and sets, but the real high points here are the choreography and camerawork.
Every fight scene is incredible. The choreography and stunt work is not just of a high quality, but is clever and creative. This is rare in general, let alone a franchise that has gotten several entries in, and they utilise everything in their arsenal here (no pun intended). From the Arc De Triomphe car chase to the use of cars as literal weapons in hand-to-hand combat, the fantastic final act set piece fight as Wick battles his way up Paris’ 222 steps to the house-clearing shoot out all shot from above in a birds’ eye view.
These last two sequences reflect another fun aspect of the film: its multimedia parallels. The staircase scene is reminiscent of classic video games, brawling your way up multiple linear levels, while the latter scene is a deliberate homage to the video game Hotline Miami. This video game influence is in addition to clear visual inspirations from anime and an almost cartoon-like logic at times. This all comes together seamlessly, without ever feeling tacked on.
When you add a really fantastic cast onto these points, it’s a very sweet cherry on top. The expected are here such as Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane, and the late great Lance Reddick, but new additions like Scott Adkins, aggressively chewing the scenery and throwing slick taekwondo kicks in a fat-suit, Hiroyuki Sanada and Bill Skarsgård do wonderful, fun work, and Donnie Yen steals most of the scenes as Caine, while also giving the director and stunt team a new element to spice up the combat via his lack of sight. Clancy Brown is another welcome addition in a minor role and a particular highlight here is singer Rina Sawayama, in her feature film debut, as Akira. She’s a talent you’ll want to keep an eye on in the future of both this franchise and film in general.
The film is not perfect, no film is, but this comes pretty damn close. Sure, if you want to nit-pick, the script isn’t exactly intricate, deep or subtle, but it doesn’t really need to be in a film of this nature, and what is on paper is executed perfectly. Skarsgård’s performance as the French Marquis can be a little ropey and over the top, but that also plays into the cartoon logic above.
I’m a big fan of the Vulgar Auteurism movement, and John Wick Chapter 4 is one of the perfect examples of that. If you’ve got 3 hours to spare, there’s no better way to spend it. If you don’t have 3 hours to spare, make it happen anyway and go see the film because you’ll have the time of your life.
John Wick Chapter 4 is playing in cinemas across the U.K. now.