Lionsgate’s John Wick films have always been over-the-top action/thriller thrill rides that are more concerned with impressing you with visceral, perfectly choreographed action sequences than with telling the most comprehensible story about fashionable assassins. John Wick: Chapter 4 is no exception, directed by Chad Stahelski. And it picks off exactly where 2019’s John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum left off, delivering on the franchise’s staples – stylish firearms, loving canines, and one very haggard man in black.
If this were just another chapter in the John Wick narrative, the newest picture would be considered slightly above average in comparison to its predecessors — and a monument to how far the franchise has gone. Yet, John Wick: Chapter 4 aspires to be as momentous and historic as it is bombastic – ambitions that the film falls short of despite its best efforts.
After three films of wanting to be left alone, then wanting retribution, then wanting to be left alone some more, and finally being forced to flee, dog-loving widower and super-assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is exhausted but still determined to make sure the High Table gets what it deserves for attempting to murder him. John Wick: Chapter 4 assumes you’re still thinking about Parabellum since it instantly throws you back into Wick’s jet-setting existence of traveling to far-flung locales and firing as many rounds as it takes until his different targets are covered in bullet wounds and dying.
With Wick still roaming across the planet and annihilating practically everyone who crosses his way, the High Table’s rulers have every cause to be afraid that he’ll locate them and bury them. That dread is what drives the clandestine group to make the daring moves that put John Wick: Chapter 4 in action.
Yet John Wick is only a guy, Chapter 4 emphasizes him as the man (in black) — an assassin so encased in plot armor that he simply cannot be slain by conventional methods or by obeying the old norms that have made the High Table the thriving organization that it is.
The Marquis de Lafayette Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgard) is more than just another professional assassin out for Wick’s head. As he informs Wick’s longstanding supporters Winston Scott (Ian McShane) and Charon (Lance Reddick) that their links to him would bring nothing but destruction into their life, he speaks for the whole organization. Nonetheless, John Wick: Chapter 4 portrays the Marquis as the High Table’s destructive arbiter of change — a representation of the future colliding with the past — and the existential anxiety he instills in his fellow killers is one of the film’s most intriguing components.
The Marquis also provides Wick with a single simple target to focus on as he seeks to make the High Table pay for what it has done to him and reclaim his freedom. Between Wick and the Marquis, however, are hundreds, if not thousands, of skilled killers, such as blind swordsman Caine (Donnie Yen), hell-bent on collecting the ever-increasing bounty hovering over the excommunicado’s head.
While Chapter 4 is solely focused on depicting how Wick systematically mows down his pursuers, stuntman-turned-director Stahelski and Reeves are clearly in their element. Yet there’s a wobbliness and narrative thinness in the movie’s numerous periods where it’s either building up to or cooling down from its major scene pieces, which ends up accentuating how overlong and rather repetitive Chapter 4 eventually seems.
While Chapter 4 finally pits Wick against the Marquis, it is only after the former embarks on a globe-trotting adventure to gather all the necessary tools and create the necessary alliances that he is able to attack the High Table head-on. Wick’s hunt leads him to a Japanese branch of the Continental managed by series newcomers Koji Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his daughter Akira (Rina Sawayama), neither of whom understands the enigmatic Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson), a notebook-toting tracker traveling with a German dog.
All of the new faces are excellent additions since Chapter 4 is truly about considering the future, and the movie couldn’t simply be about Wick taking on the world. Sawayama and Anderson are both enthralling as two of the film’s most distinct, personality-forward combatants, who, because of their charm and strong acting choices, stand out in huge battle sequences crammed with massive groups of stunt performers brawling. Yet, John Wick: Chapter 4 spends so much of its 169-minute runtime on Wick performing things we’ve seen him do so many times before that few of the film’s characters wind up feeling like actual individuals.
The John Wick films are about action first, character second, and storyline maybe fourth, after fitted suits, but there is so little substance to a lot of the Shay Hatten and Michael Finch script that even John Wick himself comes off as unsure why he’s fighting or how he feels about it. Like with the other John Wick films, the extended combat scenes in Chapter 4 are dynamic, brutally gorgeous odes to the art of stunt work, and each feels made with devoted John Wick fans in mind. Yet, the film’s approach to fan service — allowing less action-packed moments to go a little too long and ensuring that practically every background fistfight gets plenty of screen time — has the effect of making John Wick: Chapter 4 feel unnecessarily dragged out.
One of the more spectacular aspects of the John Wick films is their ability to make you feel the blows as you watch Wick take and dish out beatings, which Chapter 4 can achieve to a point. Yet the film is so full of conflicts that feel crammed into it to make it grander that they lose meaning as the plot progresses and the corpse count climbs.
The film’s duration also has an intriguing way of underlining how little John Wick really speaks, making him appear a bit checked out and alienated from the others around him, who all communicate almost solely in bleak aphorisms. Yet, Reeves’ distant deadpan serves as a counterpoint to Chapter 4’s ventures into ridiculous physical humor. Some of them work, such as a sequence in which Wick fights his way up a flight of stairs before collapsing back down. Some, however, do not, such as Wick’s confrontation with an obese High Table head from Germany named Killa (played by Scott Adkins in a fat costume) — and come off as cringe-worthy at best and mean-spirited at worst.
John Wick: Chapter 4 isn’t a movie you sit down to see for no reason. It’s a commitment, both in terms of length and how involved you must be in the concept of John Wick for the film to be compelling. To its credit, John Wick: Chapter 4 does an outstanding job of keeping the door open for future adventures with some of the film’s new supporting characters. Given how much time this movie spends reminding you that Wick is the baddest man in town, it comes as a welcome surprise.
Laurence Fishburne, Clancy Brown, Natalia Tena, Marko Zaror, Bridget Moynahan, and George Georgiou also appear in John Wick: Chapter 4. The film will be released in cinemas on March 24th.