We are now four movies in and like the last one in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, my mind still lingers with the same old question: just how long can this franchise keep it up without starting to overstay its welcome? You see, the third John Wick movie was a visceral piece of action cinema and while the story did expand its world-building mythology, I always figured Chad Stahelski could have wrapped it up into a trilogy-ending chapter.
Fortunately, the John Wick director exceeded my expectation with a nearly 3-hour-long epic action spectacle in John Wick: Chapter 4. The stakes are higher and the action, well, they are insanely choreographed to the utmost thrilling and visceral effects. The story — credited to Shay Hatten and Michael Finch — retains its economical narrative approach even for a movie of such a magnitude: The barely-survived John Wick (Keanu Reeves), who was last presumed dead at the end of the third movie, is back in action, thanks to the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne). After recovery, John wastes no time continuing his quest for killing the people who work for the High Table.
Likewise, no John Wick movie would be complete without a few introductions of new characters. This includes Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård), a high-ranking member of the High Table who wanted to get rid of John Wick once and for all and to do so, he summons Caine (Donnie Yen), a blind assassin being forced out of retirement to accomplish the mission. Caine happens to be John’s former friend and even though he is reluctant to kill again, he has no choice since Marquis would take his daughter’s life if he refuses. Then, there’s Mr Nobody (Shamier Anderson), a tracker with a dog who can help to locate John Wick as long as Marquis agrees to his sizable fee and a pension.
Kudos to Stahelski for his overall confident direction and pacey structure that doesn’t feel like he tries so hard to overstretch a movie. John Wick: Chapter 4 may take its time to find the right footing, particularly during the opening stretch. But it’s all business as usual once the Osaka Continental scene made its way with John Wick fighting alongside Akira (Rina Sawayama in her solid acting debut), the daughter and concierge of the Osaka Continental, whose father-manager Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada) and John are old friends. From stylish gunfights to the use of a knife and nunchaku, the sequence is both elaborately and impressively staged. It was stunning as always, and I’m not just talking about its amazing action choreography but also the way Stahelski alongside cinematographer Dan Laustsen and production designer Kevin Kavanaugh made good use of everything from the hotel interiors as a battle playground to the vibrant use of colours and lighting.
Stahelski doesn’t settle down from there as he continues to ramp up more action sequences with varying degrees of success. I don’t really like the part in the Berlin nightclub, even though Scott Adkins’ heavily-prosthetic look in a fat suit sees the martial arts veteran having a field day playing a Kingpin-like crime boss. The rest of the action, though, is as spectacular as they go. There’s a cool one-take scene shot entirely from the bird’s-eye view as John Wick goes from one room to another in a building while shooting the assassins with a shotgun armed with Dragon’s breath ammo. Another scene seems to be inspired by Teddy Chan’s Kung Fu Jungle (2014), which happened to star Donnie Yen — a scene where the characters engaged in a fight in the middle of busy traffic. Except in the case of John Wick: Chapter 4, the scene takes place on the streets of Arc de Triomphe. The intricate action choreography even goes as far as John Wick and the assassins using the speeding vehicles as shields to avoid getting shot and at some point, the bad guy gets hurled against the incoming vehicle.
Let’s not forget about the Rue Foyatier sequence either: an incredible set-piece of John Wick going up the famed 222 steps while shooting the incoming assassins. And prior to that, there’s a bit of Sergio Leone and Johnnie To’s moment of silence in the midst of a Mexican standoff before they start drawing their guns and shooting at each other.
Speaking of Johnnie To, Stahelski seems to be directly or indirectly paying homage to the legendary Hong Kong director’s Milkyway works, which can be seen in an earlier scene of Caine taking his time slurping a bowl of noodles before he starts fighting. Of course, a scene like this is no stranger to some Hong Kong action movies of the past, namely Sammo Hung’s Pedicab Driver (1989), where the top henchman played by the high-kicking Billy Chow casually enjoys his dinner before he’s ready to fight.
As for the cast, Keanu Reeves’ stoic performance is spot-on as usual and for an actor who’s going to reach 60 years old in two years’ time, he sure has the agility of a highly-dedicated action star who still can do most of his own stunts. Franchise newcomers Bill Skarsgård, Donnie Yen and Shamier Anderson deliver solid support but frankly, it was Yen who excels the most here. He brings a cool and calculated charm to his role as a blind assassin and I enjoy the way he fights elegantly in a swift manner regardless of using his cane-like sword or shooting the assassins with a gun.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is a great action movie and easily the most enjoyable cinematic experience I’ve ever seen so far in 2023. It was also well worth a wait since the fourth movie was originally scheduled for a May 2021 release date and later, next May in the following year before it finally arrives this week.