John Wick really shouldn’t be here. No, not just the fact that the character at this point has taken so much damage, been shot so many times, and fallen off of so many buildings that he should be dead 50 times over, but the film series shouldn’t really be here at all. The first movie was a complete shot in the dark from an actor who seemed on his way out, a first-time director best known for coordinating stunts, and a premise that seemed more complex than general audiences appreciate. Yet, here we are with John Wick: Chapter 4 hitting screens and an action franchise that helped reignite the genre possibly coming to a conclusion.
It’s hard to stay good for four movies. It’s even more challenging to get better each time, especially in action where one of the key ways to improve is to up the stunts, fights, and explosions often pushing things too far to the extreme. So, yes, John Wick is back but have the returns diminished or is he flying just as high despite this being the fourth outing for the nigh-invulnerable killing machine?
John Wick: Chapter 4
Director: Chad Stahelski
Release Date: March 24, 2023
We find Mr. Wick (Keanu Reeves) in a bit better situation at the beginning of John Wick: Chapter 4. As the first three films took place so close together in time, John Wick was in a constant state of degradation. However, as the fourth film starts we find him in very good health, having recovered in the care of the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) after being shot off the side of a building by The Continental’s manager, Winston (Ian McShane). John wants revenge (as always) and begins to go after the High Table, though with little plan other than to kill everyone. However, the High Table, in fear of Baba Yaga coming for him has given full power to one of its members, the Marquis (Bill Skarsgård), who uses all his power to come after John and anyone who he is friends with.
Part of that power is bringing in Caine (Donnie Yen), a blind fighter who is forced to work for the High Table so that they won’t kill his daughter. An old friend of John’s, Caine and him are set up as near equals, destined to be forced into killing one another. It is this plot line that is the best part of Chapter 4, not only because it provides a fantastic foil for John Wick, finally giving him an opponent up to his skill level, but because Yen is absolutely fantastic throughout the film, delivering not only some of the best fights in any of the movies but a performance that matches it. Yen is, of course, really, really good at fight sequences and he plays the blind fighter trope fantastically. Combining him with Wick’s frenetic gun-fu style and director Chad Stahelski’s groundbreaking action direction is a dream come true.
And there’s plenty of action to be dreaming about. While Chapter 4 does have more exposition and talking than the previous films, it is mostly longer because of the plethora of extensively long action sequences. If all you want out of your John Wick is more, bigger, and, badder, then this movie is going to be your favorite for sure. The end of the film is just one extensively long excuse to get John and all those fighting him from different set locations together for increasingly ridiculous fights. Stahelski is masterful with these sequences (thanks in no small part to Reeves actually fighting in all of them) and pulls out all the stops. There are stunning single-shot sequences that will blow your mind, including an overhead sequence through a house with Wick blowing guys away with a flaming shotgun thing. John Wick was already turned up to 11 by the end of the first movie so this is John Wick turned up to 12.
It all feels a bit too much and not enough. Chapter 4 is constantly teetering on the edge of greatness but can never seem to reach the mountaintop. It is, by far, some of the best action you’ll see in theaters this year but the bar is so high for these films that it feels like it’s not quite enough. Overall, the action is great but there are fewer mind-blowing moments because there’s just so much of it. More isn’t always better as the action starts to kind of blend together into one giant bloodbath.
A perfect metaphor for this is a memorable moment from John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum: Wick, out of ammo, tomahawks his gun at a bad guy to knock him over. It was awesome and a great moment. It happens repeatedly in Chapter 4, turning an “Oh shit” kind of sequence into something standard. Is it still awesome? Of course, but the magic has kind of slid away. Again, it’s not that it’s bad it’s just that the bar is so damn high that it was nearly impossible to get over anyway.
Reeves turns in what is probably his most monosyllabic performance of the franchise despite the extended running time. Wick has always been a man of few words but here he is practically unable to speak. It works, though. A lot of the emotional punch has been lost considering how long ago his dog died so turning him into an almost catatonic killing machine until the last parts of the film is actually quite in character. The rest of the cast excels, including appearances from other kung fu legends and a scene-stealing sequence from MMA fighter Scott Adkins.
Crap, I forgot about the nunchuck sequences, which has to be the best use of the weapon in cinema I’ve ever seen. See, there’s just so much to John Wick: Chapter 4 and it’s all so good that it just can’t stick. The bar is high, it reaches the bar, but it doesn’t quite clear it. You’re not going to be upset by seeing John Wick: Chapter 4, in fact, you’re going to be absolutely blown away by it. Sadly, you’ll leave the theater knowing that while the franchise is still on a high note, it is no longer at its best.