“John Wick: Chapter 4” manages to elevate the game — for the 4th time in a row.
‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ is a Wicked Page-Turner
After four consecutive films, “John Wick” is still raising the bar for action cinema.
Directed by Chad Stahelski and starring Keanu Reeves, “John Wick: Chapter 4” depicts an assassin in desperate search of peace.
After killing his way through three separate films, the consequences of hitman John Wick’s actions come to haunt him in the shape of aristocratic Frenchman Marquis de Gramont. In a world where underground crime operates beneath the enigmatic organization known as The High Table, Marquis acts as a liaison to conduct their wishes.
Detailed in previous films, Wick violated The Table’s strict code of conduct, killing one of their own and rebelling against them. Marked for death and labeled “excommunicado,” Marquis organizes an army of gunmen and the world’s best assassins to take out the one man who seemingly can’t be killed — John Wick.
Played by the legendary Keanu Reeves, the 58-year-old portrays Wick with lively focus, robustly taking out scores of goons with fists, nunchucks, axes, swords and vehicles.
Accepting the consequences to his violent actions, Reeves (“The Matrix,” “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”) gives a weighty sadness to Wick’s character that carries into the film’s final moments. It’s a surprisingly thoughtful performance for a franchise that has leaned more into theatrics for its previous entries. Despite the grimness, Reeves still knows how to play an audience — delivering comical “yeahs” and gratifying retorts when the film requires.
Even though John Wick’s name rests in the title, “Chapter 4” features a wide array of side characters who take up a bulk of the near three-hour run time.
Donnie Yen as the blind and sarcastic hitman Caine is an easy highlight in a slew of already standout performances. Yen (“Ip Man,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”) puts his decades of martial arts training to use with the inventive twist of pulling them off as a blind man.
Similar to Reeves, Yen adds drama and amazement to the film. Blackmailed by Marquis, Caine works to free his daughter from The Table’s custody. Yen plays a killer that’s likable but conflicting to root for as he hunts down Wick and eliminates his former allies.
Where Yen acted previously as a blind warrior in “Rogue One,” “Chapter 4” dramatically ups his physical performance. Yen adds attentive and specific mannerisms to his actions that make his portrayal of blindness feel authentic. Yen touches a wall each time he enters a room, he sets up devices that alert him to enemies, his head darts to the loudest sound and he listens to how things break to know his surroundings. That believability coupled with Yen’s agility and accuracy makes Caine one of the most entertaining aspects of the film.
Also working against Wick is the mysterious Tracker played by Shamier Anderson. Resourceful and motivated, Anderson (“Stowaway,” “Wynonna Earp”) plays a charismatic gun-for-hire with unknown motivations. Despite the lack of backstory, Anderson resembles the self-proclaimed “Mr. Nobody” character through his tenaciousness, ambition and resourcefulness in hunting down Wick with his dog, at the behest of the Marquis.
Playing the Marquis and providing the vile foil for “Chapter 4” is Bill Skarsgård. Ruthless and snarky, Skarsgård (“It,” “Barbarian”) makes the Marquis a standout villain for his cunning and unhinged sense of loyalty. While mostly seen outside of action, the few scenes the Marquis has, carry an elegant swagger making it easy to find him obnoxious yet still see him as a looming danger.
Where “Chapter 4” excels is in its action. In a series that keeps finding ways to one-up itself, “Chapter 4” is no different. The first scene alone features an array of sword fights, archery, vibrantly lit gunplay and exhaustively shot hand-to-hand combat.
Hollywood stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski (“The Matrix,” “Deadpool 2”) brings experienced camera work, with knowledge of how to make action look astounding.
The roundabout chase set in Paris’ del l’Etoile is a marvel in coordination. Fifty stuntmen circularly drove up to 40 miles per hour as cast and crew operated inside, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Due to del l’Etoile being one of the busiest roundabouts in the world, Stahelski brought the sequence to life by filming stunts separately and digitally inserting footage of the road. The result of Stahelski’s direction matched with reality makes each car feel like a destructive force of nature.
The abandoned apartment sequence, while less spectacular in nature, manages to stun with sheer presentation. With an overhead shot, the sequence covers a bird’s-eye view of an explosive shootout between some of the film’s main players. Amazingly, the scene happens in one-take after needing to film the sequence ten times for as long as two hundred seconds.
The patience and dedication required to film such acts speak volumes to the cast and crew of “Chapter 4.” Every major action sequence has incredible choreography, stunning lighting, engaging direction and a surprising amount of charm for the large cast of hitmen and assassins.
The ending of “Chapter 4” makes the future for John Wick a mystery, but the fate of his franchise isn’t. With a slew of projects already in development, each one seems to have the goal of fleshing out the corners and characters of this already vibrant criminal underworld.
Whether or not John Wick appears again, if these shows and films all live up to the quality of “Chapter 4,” a renaissance of action entertainment may be on the horizon.
“John Wick: Chapter 4” is in theaters now.
Featured image courtesy of Lionsgate