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john-wick-4 .jpg

'John Wick: Chapter Four' Is a Beautiful, Bloody, Breathtaking Ballet of Violence

By TK Burton | Film | March 25, 2023 |

By TK Burton | Film | March 25, 2023 |


john-wick-4 .jpg

What a fascinating cinematic experiment John Wick has turned out to be. It started out as what appeared to be an unassuming little action flick starring Keanu Reeves as the titular character, yet upon watching it, we were given hints that this character — and the strange world he lives in — had much more to tell. It wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill, one-last-job, I’m-too-old-for-this-shit style actioner. No, there was more to it — hints of a strange world where assassins are hidden in plain sight, where seemingly half the populace either works with them or for them, where they have their own codes and creeds, their own presiding bodies, safe havens, hell, even their own economy. It was weird, and with each subsequent entry, director Chad Stahelski, writer/creator Derek Kolstad (who didn’t work on the fourth entry), and co-writer Shay Hatten have expanded - slowly, mysteriously - upon this ultra-violent alternate universe.

It’s through that slow evolution that we arrive at Chapter Four, taking place - as all the sequels have - almost immediately after its predecessor, the excellent John Wick 3: Parabellum. Only three of the earlier co-stars return this time — Ian McShane as Winston, manager of the Continental Hotel (the neutral ground for New York’s assassins), his concierge/right-hand man Charon (Lance Reddick, in one of his last performances), and The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne). Once again, John is on the run from the forces known as the High Table, a conglomerate of criminal overlords who rule the world’s underworld through a strange feudal hierarchy. There’s not much more to say about the plot because it’s worth it for each viewer to go through it without too much information — watching the struggle unfold is half the fun.

The other half of the fun is, of course, the action, and Chapter Four does not disappoint. Reeves is as always a remarkable physical performer, and the film shines when it combines vicious martial arts with balletic gunplay, with the occasional knife, sword, arrow, or hell, brick or book thrown in. The action is fluid, kinetic, and truly gasp-worthy, and it’s refreshing to see so much of it done practically and with what appears to be minimal CGI. Of course, this is bolstered by a supporting cast that are all skilled fighters themselves — Donnie Yen appears as Wick’s mentor Caine who is now hunting him, Shamier Anderson (of Wynonna Earp fame) as the elusive Mr. Nobody, a tracker waiting for the right price, and Hiroyuki Sanada (a bona fide Sonny Chiba protégé) as Koji, the manager of the Japanese branch of the Continental. Filling in the gaps are Bill SkarsgÃ¥rd as the psychotic aristocrat Marquis Vincent de Gramont (and the film’s chief antagonist), Rina Sawayama as Koji’s daughter (and who, after her performance, should get her own damn franchise), and even B-movie martial arts legend Scott Adkins as another high table member, a deadly crime boss (who is bizarrely yet also brilliantly portrayed in a fat suit).

That sprawling and diverse cast and frenetic action is combined with a world-hopping series of sets and absolutely stunning cinematography, music, and lighting to create what may well be the strongest entry in the franchise. Joh Wick: Chapter Four rarely lets off the gas and even though it is a bit overlong with its almost three-hour runtime, it feels like a blink. When the film catches its breath for a few moments to allow for some exposition, it doesn’t feel like drag, it feels like a water break — necessary and fulfilling. Yet you’re only given a handful of minutes before the gas is stomped on again and Reeves and company punch, kick, stab, shoot, and bash their way through the next opulent, spectacular set piece.

While the action is absolutely terrific, it really is the cast that keeps this train running, delivering some of the most preposterous-sounding dialogue with such dedicated gravitas that you can’t help but buy into this crazy universe. Donnie Yen is having the time of his life as he chews through the scenery as a sometimes serious, sometimes goofy blind swordsman archetype, Anderson is a quirky fish out of water with dead shot aim and impressive fighting skills, and Reeves — who probably says a total of 50 words in the entire damn franchise — binds the whole thing together with solemn world-weariness mixed with resonant fury. It’s what keeps the dark, grimy murkiness of this universe from collapsing under its own weight — everyone is having so much fun. Sure, it barely makes sense — why are there never any cops? Where do all these gold coins come from? How does the world not realize that so much of its population is devoted to a worldwide cult of assassins? Who the hell cares, when there’s so much joy to be had in watching the back alleys and gutters run with blood?

This franchise has been an unexpected and welcome success (one could argue that John Wick 2 is the weakest entry, but it’s still a good time), and Chapter Four is a beautiful, bloody, breathtaking entry that continues to expand this strange world and its mythologies while still having Reeves keep it firmly grounded. It’s a gorgeous film, meticulously designed and densely plotted (perhaps sometimes too much so, but we’re splitting hairs), and acted with just the right amount of tongues in cheeks to keep it from derailing itself with its own seriousness and just enough ruthlessness and savagery to shock and amaze its audience. It’s so poetically put together, filled with tragic heroes and wicked villains, that we end up with a blood-soaked ballet that you can’t resist.