Synopsis: John Wick uncovers a path to defeating The High Table. But before he can earn his freedom, Wick must face off against a new enemy with powerful alliances across the globe and forces that turn old friends into foes.
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgård, Laurence Fishburne, Hiroyuki Sanada, Shamier Anderson, Lance Reddick, Rina Sawayama, Scott Adkins, Ian McShane
Director: Chad Stahelski
Running Length: 169 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: Life events got in the way of seeing the previous two installments of the John Wick franchise, which is how I wound up taking a weekend to revisit the three films that lead into John Wick: Chapter 4. This Wick-a-thon allowed me not just to reexamine the original from 2014, which I greatly admired when I first saw it, but to witness then how star Keanu Reeves (Toy Story 4) and director Chad Stahelski (Reeves’s former stunt double) went on to take what began as a simple revenge story and mold it into a true evolving saga. It could have been easy to rinse, wash, repeat, and collect their money, but the star and director harnessed a rare energy that pushed each new sequel into bigger and better territory.
I’ll assume that moving forward, you are enough of a fan that you won’t need much hand-holding to bring you up to speed, or spoilers from the three preceding films won’t bother you. I’ll keep the twists and turns writers Shay Hatten (Army of the Dead) and Michael Finch (The November Man) have cooked up to a low boil, but anyone worth their Wick salt knows to expect the unexpected, and everyone is fair game to become a turncoat or go toe up before the end credits roll.
When we last left John Wick, he’d been betrayed by New York Continental Hotel manager Winston Scott (Ian McShane, Hellboy) in a seemingly callous attempt to save his neck. Not even being shot and falling from a rooftop could stop our hero, though, and he’s spent the time between chapters making plans to take his vicious revenge on the High Table. His plans are set into motion at the same time Scott and concierge Charon (the late, great Lance Riddick, White House Down) meet up with the High Table’s newest New York big wig, the Marquis Vincent de Gramon (Bill Skarsgård, Barbarian) and get new orders to clean up the mess they’ve left behind.
Not satisfied that one party alone can stop Wick, the Marquis enlists the help of blind assassin Caine (Donnie Yen, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), who is also being forced into service as a consequence of past actions. Caine will get his first crack at Wick in Osaka, where the knuckle-bound one-man army has taken refuge with an old friend (Hiroyuki Sanada, Bullet Train) and his daughter (recording/visual artist Rina Sawayama), both of whom have certain specific duties for the High Table. In Osaka, the film gets its initial surge of adrenaline, pushing it past the first hour as Wick goes up against an endless supply of bad guys/gals.
In typical franchise fashion, these action sequences aren’t your ordinary kick-punch-punch-and-scene feuds but extended combat (often hand-to-hand) that showcases just how much of the incredible stunt work is being done by the cast. In many films, these battles could feel dragged out and self-indulgent. Still, in the hands of Stahelski and cinematographer Dan Laustsen (not to mention editor Nathan Orloff, Ghostbusters: Afterlife), they become triumphantly tense, brilliantly conceived works of deadly art.
While the series has parted ways with original writer Derek Kolstad, Hatten and Finch carry on the established tone well. We’re in Chapter 4 now, and while I appreciate the consistency in characters from movie to movie, I wish important people introduced from each installment weren’t dropped so wholly with every subsequent film. Several characters from Chapter 3 that proved to be intriguing additions are absent here without much explanation. I get that it’s part of the overall structure of the world of Wick and that some of the fun in these films is to have recognizable actors drift by in surprising cameos – but could at least a few of them come back around now and then?
You may think the film has bitten off more than it can chew at nearly three hours. While it can be argued that Stahelski could make some cuts here and there (an easy way to shave off 5-10 minutes is anytime a camera is following McShane walking anywhere – the man isn’t in a rush to do anything), the overall experience of John Wick: Chapter 4 is so uniformly satisfying that I wouldn’t know what could go that wouldn’t make another piece of the puzzle fall apart. The last hour is the edge-of-your-seat, popcorn-gnoshing stuff of dreams. It’s when Lausten (Nightmare Alley) is given the most freedom to get creative (read: fancy) with his camera work and when Stahelski (Deadpool 2) removes all excess material to reveal a lean, mean machine of a thrill ride.
Until now, this franchise has done well because each film has felt like it arrived at the right time. You can tell Reeves (as monotone as ever) has an affinity for the character and the bonus of doing the stuntwork, but he’s shown up because there’s more story to tell. A spin-off, Ballerina starring Ana de Armas (Blonde) and a few other familiar Wick faces, is currently in production, and it’s rumored the events of that film will serve as a bridge between Chapter 3 and Chapter 4. Whether or not a Chapter 5 is possible will require deeper discussion because all parties have certainly outdone themselves with this fourth feature.