John Wick: Chapter 4 review
Sorry, every other action film coming in 2023. You’re competing for second place at best after John Wick: Chapter 4. It doesn’t even make sense that the fourth installment of this series is so entertaining and ridiculous in the best way possible.
If nothing else, Chapter 4 cements John Wick as the preeminent action franchise of this generation with a legit claim to best shoot ’em up series ever. John Wick has been a perfect combination of insanely over the top action, breathtaking backdrops to all the carnage, colorfully memorable characters and an undeniable sense of cool.
Chapter 4 plays out like the filmmakers took all the best elements of the previous three installments to make the ultimate, killer John Wick movie. From the first film’s dazzling gun-fu, the mesmerizing cinematography of part 2 and the wild attack dog action from Chapter 3.
Picking up where Chapter 3: Parabellum ended, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is still being hunted down by The High Table but is now ready to go on the offensive. John has to contend with a new enemy, the High Table’s Marquis (Bill Skarsgard, It), who seeks to gain John’s attention by going after his friends, Winston (Ian McShane), Charon (the late Lance Reddick), Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada, Bullet Train) and his daughter, Akira (pop star Rina Sawayama).
To further stack the odds, Marquis calls one of John’s oldest friends, Caine (Donnie Yen, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), back into action with the lure of wiping his debt to the High Table. Marquis has his own menacing henchman in the menacing Chidi (Marko Zaror) while another player, a mysterious tracker (Shamier Anderson), accompanied by his pet dog/attack partner, wants in on the Wick bounty once it reaches a higher payoff.
It’s going to take all of John’s resources and dwindling allies in order to get to Marquis to finally end his standoff with The High Table once and for all.
Screenwriters Shay Hatten (John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum) and Michael Finch (Predators) don’t have to spend too much time on the plot, but they make the script more nuanced than John See, John Kill. The script explores relationships and questions if John will ever be happy on his endless quest for revenge.
Reeves has always played Wick with a certain old gunslinger flair. He’s not big on hearing himself speak, but when he does talk it’s meaningful. That less is more approach works perfectly for this character. While it would be easy for Reeves to treat Wick like an unstoppable superman, it’s more impactful that he gets tortured, shot, stabbed and beaten down. It makes his victories in battles that much more satisfying and hard-earned.
The series has never lacked for fun characters, but Chapter 4 has an embarrassment of riches with this cast. It would have been epic with Yen alone. He’s no stranger to strong roles, but this might be one of his best.
Some of that comes from simply giving him a larger spotlight to the point he’s nearly the film’s co-lead. No action film will go wrong for making Yen a centerpiece beyond just the fight scenes. Yen gives Caine this presence that just exudes coolness and a threat to anyone that crosses him.
Yen is so skilled a cinematic fighter that he keeps finding new ways to amaze audiences. He doesn’t play Caine as if he occasionally forgets his character is blind. With every action, movement and most impressively in every battle, Yen is mindful of portraying Caine like he’s lacking one of his senses.
Skarsgard plays a remarkable bastard villain who’s used to getting his way no matter who his actions affect.
McShane and Laurence Fishburne remain captivating holdovers from previous installments while series newcomers like Anderson and Sawayama make for excellent additions. Anderson is a standout in every scene while Sawayama packs tremendous intensity in her showcase fight sequences.
And just to show off, Chapter 4 features memorable cameos from martial arts movie legend Scott Adkins (Accident Man: Hitman’s Holiday) and legendary heavy Clancy Brown (Tales of the Jedi).
The performances are exceptional, but John Wick has always been about the action and this one delivers at an absurd level. Series director Chad Stahelski seemingly does his best to end the series as it seems like topping these jaw-dropping fight scenes would be impossible. There are shootouts on horseback, brawls in museums, an incredible shootout at the Arc de Triomphe and a 200+ stairwell.
Stahelski excels with these action scenes by letting them play out without a lot of needlessly distracting editing. He frequently takes wide views so the audience can take in everything and appreciate the skill of the actors in pulling off the moves. We see John struggling to reload a clip, feel Caine’s desperation in avoiding sword strikes and the tracker’s precise aiming before siccing his dog on an opponent.
It’s hard to pick a favorite action scene, but the Reeves/Adkins battle is very well staged, and any Yen-involved sequence is incredible.
The fight scenes would look cool in a deserted warehouse, but Stahelski takes them to another level by the locations. They’re typically contested in these amazing locales that cinematographer Dan Laustsen bathes in bold colors that help create the unique look of a John Wick fight scene.
One of the best examples is a creatively shot overhead battle where John utilizes exploding dragon’s breath ammo, which ignites its targets on contact.
After this installment, it’s hard to see how another sequel would even be necessary beyond Reeves and Stahelski challenging themselves to make something close to one of the greatest action spectacles of all time.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Photo Credit: Lionsgate