'John Wick: Chapter 4' review: Bigger, longer, and bloodier
Courtesy of Lionsgate
After taking in 169-minutes of the pure, adrenaline fueled madness that is the epic “John Wick: Chapter 4,” I’ve come to the conclusion the main character could single handedly battle any living organism, including The Avengers, and live to tell the tale. 9 years removed from the originally slated direct-to-DVD “John Wick,” these films have only gotten better with each subsequent installment, and “Chapter 4,” goes out with a massive, I-can’t-believe-what-I’m-watching finesse reserved only for the greatest cinematic action films of all time. It now sits among the greats, including “Die Hard,” “The Raid,” and “Seven Samurai.” Not too shabby for the Baba Yaga.
Franchise helmer Chad Stahelski, who started out as a stuntman in the business, again delivers the bullets and blood on a massive scale, bringing lead star Keanu Reeves back for one last hurrah before the mantle is passed down for spinoffs and television shows. Reeves has never looked more agile or eager to take down fellow assassins and power players in the battle for his character’s legacy. And Stahelski and crew are there to capture every second: weather it’s an insane 5-minute overheard tracking shot wherein John Wick dismantles goons with, checks notes, a makeshift bullet flamethrower or he picks himself off the ground after tumbling down what’s the basic equivalent of three blocks (not flights) of stairs, “Chapter 4” earns every punch.
Considering this is four movies in, the latest installment doesn’t waste time with pleasantries: although I don’t need to remind the faithful this all started because someone killed his dog. After the end of “Chapter 3,” a multimillion-dollar bounty was placed on Wick’s head, but he’s done hiding. He wants out. Which means taking his bidding to the High Table, that shadowy hitman guild who live by a strict enforcement of rules, guidelines, and ethics (understanding the logistics of how the High Table has worked across four movies still remains a series highlight). In this instance, Wick has finally landed on the radar of Maquis (Bill Skarsgård), a major influencer within the underground hitman world, and he sends two highly skilled lackeys, Tracker (Shamier Anderson), who comes equipped with a vicious, man-eating pup, and one of Wick’s old pals, a blind martial-arts guru Caine (Donnie Yen - doing career best work) to take him out along with an arsenal of dispensable bad guys.
Poor unfortunate souls.
In natural “John Wick” fashion, and in keeping updated with the lore of the franchise, Wick challenges Maquis to a duel (because, you know, why not?!) in a last ditch effort to earn his freedom. Except getting to the sunrise showdown will take all the might, strength, and tenacity any one man can muster, because “Chapter 4” is three hours of non-stop insanity. But when it drags, especially in the middle section, you feel it, though if that’s the small price we pay for a bonkers Japanese hotel set samurai sword brawl and several relentless chases inside a nightclub and on a quiet Paris street, I suppose it’s worth the lull.
The supporting roster is aces; Ian McShane and Laurence Fishburne, along with the late Lance Riddick, fulfill their duties as Continental manger Winston, the Bowery King, and knowledgeable concierge Charon alongside the fresh blood, including an unrecognizable Scott Adkins doing immaculate character work as a big baddie Wick will encounter and Hiroyuki Sanada who plays an ally and manager of another Continental location. Writers Shay Hatten and Michael Finch go a long way in making sure each of these performers get their due and never does it disappoint.
But the full circle always comes back to Reeves, a man of few words in these movies and yet so incredibly charismatic and badass at the exact same time. Wick’s arch is more tuned and dialed up this go around, with satisfying motifs at play about morality, fate, and unwavering loyalty. It’s a lot of movie, but it sends out the character on a high-flying note, where the past and present collide in what will be remembered as an unforgettable, home-grown, action extravaganza.
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER FOUR is now playing in theaters.