2023 | rated R | starring Keanu Reeves, Lawrence Fishburne, Ian McShane, Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgard, Shamier Anderson, Clancy Brown, Hiroyuki Sanada & Lance Reddick | directed by Chad Stahelski | 2h 49m |
2014’s John Wick introduced the world to it’s next action superman in a central character with a certain set of skills with a reputation that preceded him for turning anything in reach into a deadly weapon. Chapter 2 took the cleanly shot action of the first film’s Night Club Scene and expanded it to feature length, establishing that this series’ trademark aesthetic as one that treated action choreography like ballet. Chapter 3- Parabellum was an excellent follow-up that built up the franchise mythology, solidifying the rules and hierarchy of it’s central shadowy Assassin’s Guild and did so with a gorgeous visuals, quirky characters and high stakes. Now comes Chapter 4, in which director Chad Stahelski and Keanu Reeves bring the series to it’s epic conclusion and provides more of the same in a suffocating desire to one-up itself at every turn.
For the crime of letting Excomunicato assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) live (despite shooting him off the roof of a high rise), New York Continental Chairman Winston (Ian McShane) is himself declared Excommuncato by a newly empowered member of the High Table, Marquis (Bill Skarsgard). With unlimited contacts and resources, Marquis sets about righting the wrongs of the rule breaking Wick, including hiring renowned blind assasin Caine (Donny Yen) and bounty hunter Nobody (Shamier Anderson) to chase Wick across the world and finally put an end to the legend of the Boogyman.
I’ve loved these movies for a long time. Heck, I spent last year loving the indulgent excesses of movies like Everything Everywhere All At Once and Terrifier 2. Yet from the very beginning something feels off about John Wick: Chapter 4. Late in the film Marquis says that men are motivated by three things: “Something to kill for, something to die for and something to live for. John Wick has none of them. Caine has all of them.” Articulating exactly why John Wick is no longer that interesting of a character by the fourth chapter and why the introduction of Donny Yen’s Caine is such a scene stealer. 4 movies in, Wick’s clean, initial motivation of revenge has become so hazy it evaporates. Setting about the bring down the High Table for abuses we never see and enforcing rules that Wick willingly chose to break.
The appeal of the Wick movies was how it was slimmed down into a clear efficient laser-focused action thriller that knew exactly what they were and delivered. At a nearly 3 hour run-time, Chapter 4 gets caught up in a disease of Bigger is Better. Like The Matrix Revolutions and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, the film is blown up with hot air by a desire to top it’s own excesses. The result is something that looks terrific, seriously fantastic, but lacks urgency, lacks thrills and isn’t going to get the blood pumping. The fight scenes look great, delivering the series trademark visual style that refrains from cuts and shows us the martial arts skill on display. Some of it gets gasp-worthy, particularly a sequence set around the Arc De Triomph that sends bodies bouncing off of speeding cars. But over time it all just becomes numbingly repetitive.
With nothing more to build in the world of the High Table, nothing else to reveal about Wick’s character and a few side characters to pick up the personality slack (Anderson and Yen make the movie), Chapter 4 flounders around reforming Wick and his two opportunistic allies as a modern The Good, The Bad and the Ugly complete with western musical ques and dueling pistols at dawn. This is a well-made, often beautiful, movie that doesn’t get the balance between story and action right and looses the thrills of the first 3 films in the process.