John Wick: Chapter 4
Nate Richard says the fourth go-round with Keanu Reeves' grim assassin is bigger and badder than ever, with each action set piece topping the last.
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The first “John Wick” movie came out exactly at the right time. It just came out of nowhere. Lionsgate dropped the first trailer for the 2014 film exactly one month before its theaters. At the time star Keanu Reeves was coming off of the critical and financial failure of Universal’s big-budget film “47 Ronin,” and the box office as a whole was down that year.
Though thanks to buzzy word of mouth, the film became a sleeper hit, making $86 million worldwide off of a $20 million budget. This caused Lionsgate to greenlight a sequel that doubled the first film’s box office run and maintained critical acclaim. The third film was even bigger, nearly doubling the second film’s financial total, and leading Lionsgate to not only approve a fourth film but to go all in with a franchise, also greenlighting the spin-off film “Ballerina” led by Academy Award nominee Ana de Armas and a prequel limited series “The Continental” that is hitting Peacock later this year.
With the arrival of “John Wick Chapter 4,” the franchise is bigger than ever and the marketing has promised to be the biggest Wick yet, both literally and figuratively.
The plot of Chapter 4 is hard to discuss without diving too deep into spoiler territory. It’s not the most complicated story out there, in fact, it’s fairly straightforward and loose, but the marketing has done a surprisingly effective job at keeping things quiet. The film is set sometime after Chapter 3 where Wick is now being hunted by the high table and becomes at odds with the snobby Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård).
One of the most surprising aspects of the film is, that for the first hour at least, Wick isn’t really the focus. Reeves’ screen time feels limited compared to his presence in the first three films and in the latter two acts of this new entry. At its worst, it can be a tad slow, and at its best, well we get Donnie Yen and Hiroyuki Sanada duking it out on the screen, so you can’t complain.
Once the film hits a certain action sequence, it continues to be like a giant flight of stairs where it just keeps topping itself (ironically, there is a whole fight sequence set on a flight of stairs). Chad Stahelski takes advantage of his directorial skills and the physicality of his cast with each action setpiece. Starting with a sleek lengthy fight scene set in Japan, to an entire sequence shot like it’s a live-action top-down video game, there’s no shortage of exciting action unfolding on screen.
Unlike so many modern action flicks where janky editing, quick-cuts, shaky camera movements, and dimly lit rooms, make fight scenes nearly unenjoyable, the “John Wick” films have always had a habit of forgoing that and instead laying the action out plain in sight for the audience. Sure some of it may be over-the-top, but it still feels more grounded than something like “The Gray Man” where a fog machine takes up half the camera.
These films have also a ton a tremendous job in the casting department, there are certainly big-name actors and actresses in the film alongside Reeves, but they’re always used properly and never feel like afterthoughts and it’s easy to believe them in their ass-kicking roles.
The returning cast members including Reeves, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, and Lance Reddick all do well, but the film’s biggest stand-outs are Yen as a friend turned unlikely adversary Caine and newcomer Shamier Anderson as the rogue bounty hunter Mr. Nobody. Yen has the badass persona down and his choreography feels so distinct from all the other cast members. He also has impeccable comedic timing, especially in his back-and-forth with Skarsgård.
Speaking of Skarsgård, he successfully plays a main villain that you love to hate. He’s cowardly, whiny, and all the things that John Wick isn’t, making him the perfect foil.
Is the film’s three-hour runtime necessary? Absolutely not. At the same time, I can’t think of a single moment when I was bored watching “John Wick: Chapter 4.” It’s the creative team firing on all cylinders and delivering a film that is near impossible for fans to be let down by.