A couple of words of warning if you plan to see the fourth instalment of the John Wick franchise. Firstly, catching up might be worthwhile if you haven’t seen the previous films. You me be confused about this ever-growing world that has developed since the original film. Secondly, make sure you go to the toilet before the movie starts. It’s long. Very long! It also doesn’t have a space for filler to escape for a quick pee. Thirdly, expect to come out of the cinema exhausted, for this is an epic movie in length, scale and incredible fight sequences. You will feel giddy, breathless and shattered from the sheer physicality of the film, which, in my mind, is definitely the best in the series.
John Wick is still a wanted man but has found a way to become a free man from the High Table. To do this, he must go up against a new and powerful enemy, who has brought on board an old friend of John to track him down and kill him. However, sometimes friends who become foes can work to your advantage as the bounty on John’s head is going up.
Not wanting to give too much of the plot away, this starts as it means to go on. John, shooting and riding a horse in the desert. Yes, he’s back and still wants to get that unwanted bounty off his head. Considering how far John Wick has gone since the 2014 film, when Wick, a retired hitman, was dragged back into the game after someone stole his precious car and killed his dog, he has been through quite enough over the years. Now it’s time to end this once and for all, except he has to face the Marquis, a Frenchman who has the High Table behind him and wants Wick killed.
Returning director Chad Stahelski really knows how to film action sequences. Instead of making jerky camerawork impossible to watch, he understands this is more like a dance. Keep the camera solidly on the action so we can appreciate the work put into the choreography. While bodies are flying all over the place with kicks, punches, gunfire, and swordplay now with added nunchucks, the body count is upped, and the fights are much more complex. We get fights everywhere, including a nightclub, where the banging beats are ideal for brutality, which most of the crowd ignore while they lose themselves in the music. We get an extended car chase around the Arc de Triomphe that needs to be seen to be believed. Leading to a finale on the steps in Montmartre that will surely go down in history as one of the best ever filmed. Trust me, it is spectacular.
Yet this is more than just 2 hours and 49 minutes of violence. There are themes from betrayal, fine lines between friend and foe, redemption, revenge and loyalty. It’s one part Samurai movie, one part Spaghetti western. It references movies, including the 1979 gang movie The Warriors. It nods towards Arika Kurasawa and Sergio Leone while still maintaining its identity. It even has touches of dark humour to break up the relentless physical actions. Let’s face it, this is what the fans want. You know there is very little CGI involved, and if there are stars in this film, it’s the stunt team.
Having said that, this is Keanu Reeves’s baby, and he excels. Having very little in the sense of dialogue, he lets the action do the talking. The camera sticks with him throughout, particularly during the breathtaking car sequence, where both doors of his vehicle are removed so you know it’s the actor behind the wheel. Reeves has turned this character into a cinematic icon, and considering his career was on the decline a few years ago, this saving grace has done his persona wonders. Along with regulars Ian McShane as Winston and Laurence Fishburne as the Bowery King, we get Bill Skarsgard, Pennywise from It, as the Marquis, a slick and smooth villain with a way of getting what he wants. Martial Arts superstar Donny Yen is added to the mix as Wick’s former friend and blind assassin, Caine, and we have the opportunity to see a master at work as he effortlessly joins the fight.
Brutal, visceral and stunning to look at, John Wick, Chapter 4 is exactly what you expect and more. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you appreciate excellent action direction, superb stunt scenes, and fight choreography that raises the bar for future action movies, this is the film for you. Even its long running time is not a chore, but be prepared to leave thoroughly shaking and hugely entertained.
On a sad note, this was the last film for Lance Reddick, who sadly died recently and the film is dedicated to him.
4 out of 5
Director: Chad Stahelski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Donny Yen, Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane, Bill Skarsgaard, Clancy Brown, Scott Adkins
Written by: Shay Hatten, Michael Finch and (based on the characters created) Derek Kolsted
Running Time: 169 mins
Release date: 24th March 2023