The fourth installment of the popular John Wick series, subtitled simply Chapter 4, finds Keanu Reeves’s now-iconic character continuing his ever more elaborate dance with death. He does so over 4 continents providing some truly stunning scenery to take the edge off the mayhem that dominates the narrative. After all, John Wick is an assassin even though he’s spent every film since the first one trying to sever ties with the High Table consortium that controls the world of crime bosses and assassins. Chapter 4 is for true action junkies.
Yes, it’s violent, dark, and often gruesome, but that’s what you came to see, right? That said, if you’re someone who is disturbed by vividly horrible deaths, you should probably stay home. I personally am disturbed by realistic violence, but the savagery and mutilation in this film are anything but realistic. That’s its draw, but it’s also its weakness. The number of assailants John Wick can dispatch in short order is completely ridiculous, but the choreography of the fight sequences is so beautiful and masterfully done, you can almost believe it. Actually, if you got hit in the face as many times as John Wick by the super-sized opponents he faces, your head would be the size of a watermelon. He usually sports only a few cuts post-battle. Stunts, even well-choreographed ones, would definitely kill you strain credulity and distract from the narrative. You have to be able to believe what you’re seeing…at least a little bit.
You know going in that most of the plot will involve fighting and many deaths, actually quite repetitive, but the filming locations act as welcome distractions from the blood and guts. New York doesn’t figure prominently in this film, but it counts for one continent. Asia is represented by a dizzying horseback pursuit in a desert (actually filmed in the Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan), and Japan where the main plot line is set up. Then it moves on to Europe, specifically Berlin, and Paris, where the story works up to its ultimate resolution.
Keanu Reeves is so completely John Wick that absolutely no one else could play the role. He’s supported by some very competent actors, some returning from previous films. There’s Caine, the blind but lethal assassin, who is sometimes an ally and friend to John but can be manipulated by threats to his daughter. Donnie Yen moves like a dancer as he creates this fascinating character.
Acting as the manager of the Tokyo Continental is Koji, a friend and defender of John, played by Hiroyuki Sanada. He also has a daughter, Akira (Rina Sawayama), who is the hotel’s concierge. She’s as highly trained in martial arts as her father.
In New York, Ian McShane returns as Winston, manager of the New York Continental, as does Lance Reddick as Charon, the concierge. Reddick’s untimely death in real life has made this last performance particularly poignant. The film will be dedicated to him. All his fellow actors, as well as many fans, are mourning his loss.
Laurence Fishburne returns as the Bowery King. He makes the most of his limited screen time which is important because he equips John with a couple of weapons that will be very important in the final confrontation.
Bill Skarsgard makes an effective villain and foe for John. He plays the Marquis Vincent de Gramont, as a deceptively effete aristocrat, masking his own murderous nature. He is a member of the High Table and therefore, John’s target.
John finds an unlikely ally in a tracker, dubbed Mr. Nobody by the Marquis, who accepts a contract on John’s life but has second thoughts. Wick has always had a price on his head, but the amount has skyrocketed to such an astronomical number that just about everybody is trying to kill him. How they become allies is an interesting subplot in itself.
From the beginning of the film, John has insisted on restoring the “old ways”, so the culminating confrontation is an old-fashioned duel at dawn officiated by the High Table’s Harbinger, played by Clancy Brown. Getting to the appointed place at the appointed time turns out to be quite a harrowing journey, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
There are more than a few plot twists, some big, that drives the narrative and the resolution. I had mixed feelings about some of them which kept me from loving the film. And the film is too long at almost 3 hours. Many of the fight scenes were so similar to the previous films that they could have been shorter and achieved the same effect.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is, though, definitely a crowd-pleaser. The cast is superb, the stunts are breathtaking and sometimes heart-stopping, and I’d watch Keanu Reeves read the tax code! He’s done many interviews about the film, and the one I found the most interesting was when he described the difficulty of most of the stunts and the fight choreography, but the extreme satisfaction – and sometimes disbelief- when it all comes together successfully. Well, it all definitely comes together successfully. – JoAnne Hyde