Previously on John Wick: the third chapter (the one with the vestigial subtitle) ended with Our Hero Keanu Reeves mostly dead yet slightly alive (again/still/more than ever), the Continental’s sacred hotel-for-rich-assassins charter revoked, and the audience left wondering how director Chad Stahelski and his Grand Stunt Army of the Republic could possibly top all that, which of course they’d have to because they ended on a cliffhanger as if to triple-dog-dare themselves into doing it all again. Hence John Wick: Chapter 4.
Those who loved the last three films won’t need any convincing and have already seen it by now, possibly multiple times. For you lone holdouts: yep, it’s all that and, somehow against all odds, more more more. Pew pew pew pew punch punch punch kick kick kick vroom vroom bark bark stab stab sizzle gurgle hack choke budda-budda-budda-budda and so on. One caveat: it’s nearly three hours long. If you’ve ever binged a TV show, then you’ve waived your right to complain about a film’s length for the rest of your life, but if you have medical conditions that complicate sitting still in a theater, it’s something to consider. Otherwise, you won’t notice the time fly by, especially if you pay extra for a Dolby Cinema showing like I did and let the sound effects drown out any and every sliver of stillness.
To be fair, there’s slightly more to the proceedings than how they fight, and fight, and fight and fight and fight. Not much more, but slightly more is coaxed out of writers Shay Hatten (the lone returnee from Chapter 3) and Michael Finch (Predators). John Wick remains a wanted man on the run, although everyone forgets to chase him for a while in the middle of the film. Wick meanwhile wants revenge against the High Table for countless grievances in the previous films as well as new ones committed early into this one. Much like Chapter 3 and the entire Bond series, his vendetta will send him globetrotting from one exotic locale to the next depending on where the filmmakers wanted to vacation. After a quick horse-fu prologue to wrap up a loose thread out in the desert, Our Hero collects cool new fight-scene backdrops at The Continental in Osaka, a seedy nightclub full of waterfalls in Berlin, and a few choice attractions in Paris. The Eiffel Tower shows up to pose for wallpaper, but of course the film finds cooler places to hang out where there aren’t so many tourists.
Such a journey illustrates the worldwide reach of the High Table, a cabal of murderous zillionaires who believe they’re too good for the world’s rules, yet have devised their own set of differently complicated rules because they either don’t believe in anarchy or love having even more rules to break. How naughty it must make them feel! Surprisingly, everyone in this film adheres far more closely to Table rules than they previously did, but nevertheless take pride and/or joy in looking for loopholes, workarounds, and even older, nearly forgotten rules from ancient Table times. It’s one of those dusty provisions that Wick learns of and puts to personal use: challenging someone at the Table to an old-timey duel. Some ranking members are shocked — shocked! — that duels were their thing, but no one ever thought to form a Table committee and have those stricken from the Table books. That’s the section, paragraph, sub-section and sub-paragraph that Wick pins his hopes on as he calls out his latest high-ranking adversary, the Marquis Vincent de Gramont, played by Bill Skarsgård as a restless malevolence who’s differently all-powerful from It‘s Pennywise. If Wick can face him man-to-man, one last time, totally playing by the zillionaires’ own rules…he knows he’ll see no redemption for a lifetime of assassinations (even after disallowing his several hundred self-defense incidents), but at least he can perhaps find closure. If not that, then he’ll also accept vengeance.
Once again Stahelski and his crew orchestrate melees and shootouts wondrously choreographed as practically as possible, looking so seamlessly dangerous in continuous takes that don’t rely on editors to julienne-slice footage into split-second scraps just to salvage anyone’s physical sloppiness like they do in the Marvel movies. Everything’s so nonstop hard-hitting and imaginatively staged that you’ll never care which bits might be computer-augmented. That thirst for real damage gives us memorable moments like the funniest gag, a new inductee to the Movie Staircase Slapstick Hall of Fame (you’ll know it when you see it go on and on and on, like Homer Simpson falling down Springfield Gorge). But the hands-down most bravura sequence is a nighttime fracas around the Arc de Triomphe and its surrounding streets, where Wick faces endless hordes of wannabe bounty hunters arriving en masse on foot or by vehicle, all of them tripping over each other and into oncoming traffic in one big no-brakes demolition derby with a pedestrian body count exceeding that of Ronin or possibly all the Fast/Furious flicks combined. For my money it’s the how-did-they-DO-that epitome of the series to date.
It helps that Wick is once again wearing the magical bulletproof suit he received in Chapter 3 — apparently made from authentic Wakandan vibranium, because that’s pretty much the only substance in any reality capable of stopping bullets and the full force of their momentum. Our reality’s petty version of anti-artillery fashion won’t stop you from getting knocked over, heavily bruised and bone-shattered when you’re shot point-blank. But Chapter 4 follows its one-percenter killers’ community to a logical conclusion: if Wick can afford a super-suit, so can several of his upscale opponents. And they don’t all show up wearing the same designer — several of them are dapper in distinctive ways, recalling how in the best shoot-’em-ups (like, say Die Hard or the other Wicks), the best villain hordes are the ones where no two minions look alike. (If they have a name and a trait, even better.) Mr. Blackwell notwithstanding, it behooves Wick more than ever to nail every possible headshot.
Reeves’ furious world-weariness is as believable and as charismatic to watch as ever, but to his credit and Stahelski’s, he isn’t the only fighter who gets awesome moments. They share the wealth and invite some world-class guest stars to come frolic in this guilty-pleasure playground, which leads us to the customary MCC film breakdowns:
Hey, look, it’s that one actor!: If you loved Donnie Yen in the Ip Man series or in Rogue One, you won’t be surprised at how many scenes he steals here as Caine, the Marquis’ highest-level freelance employee. He’s another blind master like Chirrut Imwe, very much in a Zatoichi vein, but with a different complication: a musically inclined adult daughter named Mia (Aimée Kwan) who’s the primary motive for everything he does, which includes accepting paychecks to attack his old BFF Wick. Yen is clearly having a ball and fills the role with so many touches — using magnetic motion-sensors as a fight aid, snacking, tying his shoes before battle — that at times you hope more for his survival than for Wick’s, if only to see him do three more Caine films.
Other noteworthy combatants on various sides include:
- Hiroyuki Sanada (Avengers: Endgame, Sunshine, The Wolverine, Bullet Train, Army of the Dead, more more more) as the manager of The Continental Osaka, who’s caught between the Table and his BFF Wick
- Scott Adkins (the mouthless Deadpool at the end of X-Men Origins: Wolverine), a renowned stunt-star in his own right who plays his demented Table boss in gold teeth and a fat-suit
- Shamier Anderson (Wynonna Earp) as a hunter who tries to play all sides and whose sole unquestionable loyalty is to his awesome dog, who in turn delivers yet another round of astounding dog-fu that further certifies Wick as the most dog-friendly action series since Air Bud
- Marko Zaror (Machete Kills, Marvel’s Defenders) as the Marquis’ head bodyguard
- Pop singer Rina Sawayama, in her acting debut as Sanada’s daughter Akira, who handles her fight moves and weaponry like an old pro
…and more more more!
Returning faces include Ian McShane as Winston, the head of NYC’s Continental; the late Lance Reddick from The Wire as his concierge Charon; and Laurence Fishburne as the ever-amused king of the mighty homeless underground. Newcomers who don’t need stunt doubles include the perennially enjoyable character-master Clancy Brown as a Table moderator, and Natalia Tena (Game of Thrones, four Harry Potters) as an old acquaintance who has things Wick needs.
In their byzantine world we see how it takes nigh-infinite resources and uncanny talents to beat the rich at their own little games. But maybe it can be done. You might just have to be John Wick, is all. It’s a fun dream, albeit one that’s blood-soaked and not guaranteed to lead to your happy ending.
How about those end credits? To answer the burning question that MCC is always happy to verify: yes, there is indeed a scene after the John Wick: Chapter 4 end credits. For those who tuned out prematurely and really want to know, and didn’t already click elsewhere…
[…insert space for courtesy spoiler alert in case anyone needs to abandon ship…]
…long after the final battle, Caine has the chance to see Mia perform violin live outside the Académie Nationale de Musique in Paris. It’s a sunny day and Caine’s bringing a bouquet and a smile. All is right with the world.
Well, except for one person: approaching from a different direction is Akira. She palms a tiny blade and makes a beeline for a possibly unsuspecting Caine, who murdered her father. And now he must pay. Cut to black.
To be continued? Stay tuned for future developments in the John Wick Cinematic Universe!
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