John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)
Director: Chad Stahelski
Screenwriters: Shay Hatten, Michael Finch
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgård, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rina Sawayama, Shamier Anderson, Marko Zaror, Scott Adkins
A long winding path to redemption, freedom, and peace. A path filled with trials, tribulations, painful choices, and about 80% of your time spent in fight scenes. John Wick: Chapter 4, much like its titular character, seems to run on sheer will, with Wick tracking down all of the elders of the Table and killing them, thinking that only then will his obligations be fulfilled and he will be able to live a life of peace. Of course, it’s not that easy, and every assassin and goon in the world (the ones that weren’t killed by Wick in the past three films, which makes you wonder how many there are) crawls out of the woodwork to come after him, all under the rule of a dangerous new enemy.
If you want entertainment, this film has it. Coming up on three hours long, with several fight scenes lasting at least 10 minutes, this is the ultimate one-versus-many action movie. Beautifully choreographed, soaked in that iconic John Wick neon even when they’re not having the now-obligatory shootout in a nightclub that the first film essentially kick-started, and with martial arts extravaganzas that one can actually physically see people doing, it’s popcorn munching at its finest. It sticks to its simplistic guns, not bothering with complicated plot twists or character revelations; simply putting out the bare bones of what’s needed and letting the mind do the rest. In terms of craft, that’s always where the John Wick franchise has shone; by keeping it simple, stripped down, and efficient.
Everyone acts at full pelt, but considering the caliber of performers, that is to be expected. Perhaps the scene stealer award goes to Hiroyuki Sanada, an actor who is thankfully in the west gaining more recognition as time goes on, and recognition that he deserves. Donnie Yen manages to show he’s more than just a flurry of feet and fists (and has a very small reunion with Scott Adkins, both of whom were in Ip Man 4). Incredibly, Keanu Reeves, in the silent, machine-like killer mode, somehow comes off as one of the lesser performers. They try to bring back memories of his wife, but by this point we’ve so long forgotten all of what started the franchise off that it feels like they needed to make him not just a mindless killing machine. Which, in many respects, he is. And the film is worse off for it.
Yes, Wick is the Babayaga, the man you send to kill the bogeyman, but even Michael Myers, the bogeyman himself, needs supernatural powers to survive the beatings that Wick does. The sheer absurdity of how much he survives suddenly detracts from that initial motivation, that initial character that Wick was made of. He doesn’t seem to be the character we first knew, now surviving every five hundred car hits and several storey drops to go on and punch and shoot his way out of the next gauntlet of goons because, well, the plot demands him to, and we’ve still got another hour of runtime. The video-game level of simplicity and unbelievability that this film resorts to (including a very nice but ridiculous top-down one-shot on a floor of an abandoned house, Wick dispatching everyone with choreographed ease) takes away from some of the actual grit. Wick persevered through films an hour shorter than this, against fewer enemies, but with actual effort that you felt in your core. It was tough. Despite having more bad guys to shoot, it seems the quality of henchmen has declined since the first chapters.
Let nothing take away from John Wick: Chapter 4 being a great time on the big screen. It still feels completely John Wick. It’s still better than 90% of action movies being pumped out today. It is still a success for cinematic extravagance, and hopefully the box office. But there is a point where it crosses into self-indulgence. Cut half an hour off and Chapter 4 would be so much better.