Unlike the studio trepidation in releasing films following the reopening of theaters, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) knows when to charge like a bull head-on into a fracas. Then, once theaters opened back up and audiences were ready to head in droves, those blockbusters that the studios knew would perform well are now on a collision course, and John Wick: Chapter 4 is finally upon us.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is the first film in Lionsgate’s franchise, not written by Derek Kolstad. Shay Hatten (John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum) wrote the initial treatment with Michael Finch, rounding out the story as a direct sequel to Parabellum.
Reeves is in fine form as he enacts revenge against the High Table, incurring their wrath, leaving him entirely in the cold as the Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård) hunts Wick to the ends of the earth, including Berlin, Paris, Osaka, and New York City. Skarsgård makes for a formidable enemy with his French accent; even if it seems to be an artifice, he carries a look about him that bends wills and becomes comically threatening.
De Gramont hires Donnie Yen’s Caine, an assassin in his own right. Much like Willem Dafoe’s Marcus in John Wick, Caine is an old friend of John Wick’s. In that regard, each man knows what makes Wick tick. Reeves and Yen play off of each other expertly in the scenes they share together. The scene in the church, featured prominently in the trailers, plays exceptionally well in its entirety, their barbs eliciting a good bit of humor endemic to the series. The difference is that Caine is blind. In this regard, Caine becomes an even bigger threat having to use his other senses to locate his prey, bringing a tactile sense of fight to John Wick: Chapter 4’s proceedings and a more menacing adversary.
On the lam, Wick seeks refuge in Osaka under the cover of Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada, Sunshine) and Rina Sawayama’s Akira. Both Sanada and Sawayama are stunning in their performances, serving as the Yin and Yang in John Wick’s continued fight and flight. Sanada, in particular, puts up a spectacular fight to protect Wick, allowing him to make his escape.
The sequence in Osaka features exceptionally choreographed fight sequences, full of death, but Wick wouldn’t have it any other way as de Gramont’s right-hand man, Chidi (Marko Zaror), hunts Wick. Even though Zaror is a hulk of a man, the character was less impressive than other right-hands in the series. His function in the story is obvious, while at the same time, the character felt like a brick wall to the story’s progress.
Making his way to New York, Wick adds to the bevy of assassins and bounty hunters seeking his skin for what turns out to be a $40,000,000 payday if they can bag him, in this case, Shamier Anderson’s “Mr. Nobody,” so nicknamed by de Gramont. Throughout most of the movie, Mr. Nobody is an observer, though he tries to wheel and deal with de Gramont in a dangerously funny scene. Ultimately, Anderson serves as the film’s conscience.
In New York, Wick catches up with Ian McShane’s Winston. John Wick: Chapter 4 is as much about Wick coming to terms with his efforts to win his freedom from the High Table as it is Winston’s use for Wick in defeating de Gramont, making Wick a pawn. However, Wick’s kindness as a character, if it could be called that, given his violent nature, turns the very people sent to stop him. John Wick: Chapter 4 is Keanu Reeves’ finest hour (or two hours, 46 minutes) as the character: a frenetic, lethal charm meets the actor’s zen-like stature in an exceptionally unique and pleasing way. John Wick is a parable unto itself: “with friends like you, who needs enemies?”
Speaking of friends and enemies, Laurence Fishburne’s the Bowery King makes an appearance in Paris. No matter how involved the Bowery King is in service to the script and to John Wick, Fishburne is a welcomed sight.
Hatten and Finch give John Wick: Chapter 4 a far classier story than John Wick 2 and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, driving the characters through a more nuanced story married with the frenetic killings and choreographed movements we’ve come to love.
Foretelling a Cain and Abel-type story, the writing duo staged a spaghetti western-styled duel between Wick and Caine at Sacré-Coeur in front of the Eiffel Tower at dawn. The dawn sky upon which the third act was set is particularly eye-catching. Whether it was a computer-generated special effect or physically caught on camera, the blood-red sky signifies what will come. That the Eiffel Tower sticks out into the sky like a knife, or in John Wick’s case, a number 2 pencil, is a stark reminder of what has transpired for the character and what is yet to come, resulting in high marks for cinematographer Dan Laustsen.
Of the four finales thus far, this duel was by far the most satisfactory and poetic – it wasn’t just John Wick as a killing machine; there is a sense of purpose as the High Table puts Wick and Winston on notice. De Gramont is deliciously smug, thinking he has the upper hand giving all the characters a stake at the table. A nearly unrecognizable Clancy Brown plays the Harbinger, dictating the terms of the duel, making appearances throughout.
On a more sad note, Lance Reddick, who returns as Charon, the New York Continental’s concierge, recently died. Throughout the series, his character always lent a steady warmth, an assuredness of a good time; the actor’s grace, dry humor, and wit marked Charon’s presence in these films. Our hat’s off to Mr. Reddick.
If you’re reading this before seeing the movie, don’t worry, I haven’t spoiled the best parts. You are doubtlessly aware of John Wick: Chapter 4’s 169-minute run time. Unlike No Time to Die, John Wick: Chapter 4 doesn’t feel a bit of its length, despite running six minutes longer. Thanks to editor Nathan Orloff, we are given more time to take the story in while striking a balance with the action, resulting in a far more satisfying conclusion to this chapter. The action is this film’s coup de grace; this story and its characters relish in it, and like the first John Wick, this chapter takes its time with each set piece, the stakes for the characters and their places within this universe. In a sense, it is a return to basics.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is as absurd as its predecessors, yet it takes its challenges head on and, in doing so, gives the audience time to enjoy the action, the character, and the performances, while taking in the sites. It leaves us wanting more from this universe and in a world where everything is everywhere all at once, that is a good thing.
Though, I’m still unsure about the seedy underworld of Berlin. But that’s just me.
John Wick: Chapter 4
Directed by Chad Stahelski
Written by Shay Hatten and Michael Finch, based on Characters created by Derek Kolstad
Starring Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgård, Laurence Fishburne, Hiroyuki Sanada, Shamier Anderson, Lance Reddick, Rina Sawayama, Scott Adkins, Ian McShane
R, 169 mins, Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate