WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ – the long-awaited endgame of the action marvel
Nearly a decade after the first film, the John Wick franchise manages to hit its final target with bloody precision, despite some misfires.
When the original John Wick movie debuted, born out of star Keanu Reeves’s association with the stuntmen-turned-directors duo of Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, it was a small-scale affair, all sinew and grit; it told a neon-soaked tale of love and revenge set in New York City. Since then, the franchise has exploded, birthing a universe filled with complex mythology and an ever-growing roster of characters and relationships scattered across the globe.
How one feels about that expansion will determine a lot about how one appreciates – or not – John Wick: Chapter 4, the long-awaited endgame of this action marvel.
After being hunted by the High Table, the criminal world’s ruling elite, for the past two movies, John goes on the offensive against them; the John Wick franchise has also been steadily combat-rolling its way into the realm of comic book superhero action. The rise of physics-defying scenes reaches its peak here, as Stahelski (running things solo for all the sequels thus far) goes bigger and more expensive than before in constructing clinically insane set-pieces. The Paris-set final act is some of the best action filmmaking ever put to screen; it includes pinballing vehicular mayhem at the Arc de Triomphe and an impressive top-down single-take using a drone-based camera. It’s the type of action that will leave cinema floors around the world littered with dropped jaws, cementing the film crew’s statuses in the pantheon of action movie stars.
Donnie Yen’s performance is exceptional, whether he is dispatching enemies with electronic doorbells or just slurping up noodles mid-shootout.
Wick and the many waves of enemies he gets thrown up against absorb superhuman-levels of physical abuse, accentuated by some sequences going on for longer than they need to. In a film already boasting a 169-minute runtime, you could probably do with fewer shots of John Wick firing full magazines into some faceless villain’s torso before flipping them over for a shot to the head; such feats of ballistic endurance is only made possible by the Kevlar-lined bulletproof suits that have become the franchise’s staple. These seemingly magical fashion pieces not only stop point-blank small-arms fire with nary a flap of fabric, but, in the case of the monosyllabic Wick himself, also render its wearer immune to levels of pain that would be unbearable to other humans.
So, it is almost fitting that Chapter 4 sees Reeves’s iconic character shrug off mundane bodily harm. Since first declaring his post-retirement return to avenge a very personal loss, Wick has been cutting a bloody swathe through the colourful criminal underworld. Yet, as screenwriters Shay Hatten and Michael Finch let the tale come full circle, his past actions have now once again endangered those Wick had chosen to keep close in his life. This is his true vulnerability, providing a level of emotional stakes that was sorely missing from the previous two franchise instalments.
The most obvious victims of Wick’s vendetta are Ian McShane’s Winston and the late Lance Reddick’s Charon, proprietors of the New York Continental Hotel, whose decision to repeatedly aid Wick catches up to them in explosive ways. Hiroyuki Sanada’s Shimazu Koji, manager of the Tokyo Continental Hotel, and his daughter Akira (Rina Sawayama) also see their association with Wick face them with Bill Skarsgård’s villain, Marquis Vincent de Gramont.
The standout among all of the people walking into Wick’s orbit is Caine. Brought to life with equal amounts of tragedy and charm by Donnie Yen, the blind swordsman is easily Chapter 4’s breakout. Yen’s performance is exceptional, whether he is dispatching enemies with electronic doorbells or just slurping up noodles mid-shootout, reminding everybody why he was once the Hong Kong action superstar. Yanked out of retirement by the Marquis and thrown up against Wick, Caine shares a palpable camaraderie with his target and also boasts proper emotional motivation, to the point that you often don’t know who to root for.
Caine is not the end of the memorable rogue’s gallery in Chapter 4. Marko Zaror and Scott Adkins; the former plays the relentless head enforcer for Skarsgård’s Marquis, and the latter plays an asthmatic German crime boss with martial arts skills. There is also Shamier Anderson’s tracker, Mr. Nobody, and his faithful German shepherd. What would a John Wick movie be without a loyal canine companion? Mr. Nobody himself is a bit of an iffy role: Anderson serves his thespian duties admirably, but the character weaves in and out of the story on his own agenda, without said agenda ever really explained.
Those planned spinoffs, of course, being born to keep this world alive as Chapter 4 effectively brings its protagonist’s story to an end. And it’s quite the ending for John Wick, dodging in surprising narrative directions but still keeping its sights fixed on the target: a poignantly touching and cathartic bit of closure that takes this gargantuan spectacle all the way back to its humble beginnings. This is a movie that will wow the viewer with the explosive brutality of a shotgun that fires “dragon’s breath”, intertwined with new layers of brilliantly ridiculous mythology, while simultaneously examining the bonds of friendship and family and what you would be willing to sacrifice for those you cherish. It’s a lot to execute, and like Wick himself dispatching unfortunate Henchman #256, the franchise took a few shots to get here, but it has definitely landed that killer blow. DM/ML
This story was first published on Pfangirl.com. John Wick: Chapter 4 is available in cinemas from 24 March.