John Wick: Chapter 4 Review – An Action Epic for the Ages

Jonathon “John” Wick (aka Jardani Jovanovich, aka ‘The Baba Yaga’) has been through a lot from his inception in Chad Stahelski’s John Wick in 2014. The original film co-directed by David Leitch saw the retired assassin and grieving widower re-enter the underworld of the killer elite to revenge the death of his dog, the last gift from his wife Helen to encourage him to keep living. In comparison to the following films in the ever-expanding franchise it was a stripped back affair that gave Keanu Reeves the chance to create another action legend who could dispatch adversaries with a pencil.

John Wick was a fairly straightforward revenge story with kinetic action directed by stuntman and action choreographer Stahelski. It showed his keen eye for the genre and provided memorable set pieces that would go on to bigger and sometimes not better things as the series progressed. By the second and third instalments the audience became aware of an international network of assassins controlled by ‘The High Table’ that appeared to mimic an arcane and even quasi-religious society. The lore built up and soon words like ‘consecrated’ and ‘excommunicated’ became part of the John Wick lexicon. Tokens, tickets, blood markers and other bizarre currencies bled into the action – whether this was for good or not is up to the individual viewer.

What the John Wick franchise did provide was a wonderful showcase for action and martial arts legends to get their time in a mainstream American franchise. Mark Dacascos shone as Zero in the third film. In John Wick: Chapter 4 the legendary Donnie Yen is front and centre with Hiroyuki Sanada and often overlooked action star Scott Adkins coming along for the frenetic ride. In terms of honouring the craft of action, Stahelski walks the walk.

Breaking somewhat from the traditional immediacy of the chapters following each other in real time, John has been hiding out with the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) long enough for both of their scars and wounds to heal since the events of Parabellum. John is now out for revenge against the High Table. He travels to Morocco and puts a bullet in the head of The Elder (the only one who stands above the High Table) who put him in an untenable situation in Parabellum. Meanwhile the Harbinger (Clancy Jones) deconsecrates Winston Scott’s (Ian McShane) New York Continental hotel. He and Charon (Lance Reddick) are brought to face the Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård in full 19th century dandy mode) who has made it clear that it is not only time to finally be rid of John Wick, but to kill the very idea of John Wick. The New York Continental is blown up in broad daylight. The Marquis has the backing of the High Table and is not doing things by halves.

JW4 continues its globetrotting adventures. John is hiding out in the Osaka Continental under the protection of his old friend Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada) who is the manager. His daughter, Akira (Rina Sawayam) is the concierge. The Marquis’ forces led by Chidi (Marko Zaror) attack. For both John and Shimazu there is a surprising addition to the Marquis’ roster, their once close associate, Caine (Donnie Yen) a blind assassin who has been pulled back into the world of the High Table under threat of them executing his daughter.

“Rules and consequences” are part of the lore of the franchise. For every act there is a reckoning. Although the High Table has to abide by an arcane set of rules, they also have little issue with bending them as it suits. The rules take John to Berlin where he needs to be reinstated with the Ruska Roma so he can challenge the Marquis to single combat. While there he comes across Killa (Scott Adkins kicking arse in a fat suit and a ridiculous accent). Although the scenes in Berlin are action intense, there is (pardon the pun) a certain flabbiness that engulfs the narrative. Stahelski has realised just how much the franchise resembles a video game and has leant into it. It looks amazing (the films always do) but it feels a little like a cut scene that you have to watch before you can get on with the rest of the game.

Everything is leading up to the final showdown in Paris at the Sacré-Cœur, but there are some incredible scenes (one shot entirely from above that is worth the price of entrance alone) to make you realise why the John Wick films are the best mainstream action franchise.

There are numerous call-backs to the previous films, so it is a good idea to be aware of what has come before. Keanu Reeves makes the most of his near monosyllabic hero and utilises everything he has to provide a compelling performance that knows how over the top it is. Donnie Yen is simply excellent, and Ian McShane gets some of the best lines in the film. The supporting work by Natalia Tena as John’s adoptive sister Katia and especially Shamier Anderson as Mr Nobody the tracker/bounty hunter (and man with a dog) give the film both the gravitas and humour that keeps it afloat. Bill Skarsgård’s arrogant Marquis is a brilliant addition – the fact that Stahelski’s introductory shot of him is his eye twitching is a certain kind of genius.

We come to John Wick films for the action, and it is high octane and perfectly shot. The fact that most of the actors do their own stunts is one of the major drawcards in the franchise. Keanu has proven his mettle as an action star in The Matrix films (Stahelski was a choreographer and stunt double for Neo – there is a full circle aspect to the franchise) and the inclusion of some of the world’s greatest martial arts/action practitioners as leads and supporting characters makes JW4 the very best of the sequels. You might have seen some of it before, but it has never been as big and brash as it is in this chapter.

At one stage Winston says to John “Just have fun out there,” and Stahelski knows that is what the audience has come for; the fun of the impossibly high body count and the equally impossible endurance of John Wick who seems to have transcended human form. JW4 is ridiculous and it knows it, but so are superhero films. The franchise abandoned any sense of reality in the second film and what appears to be the final chapter (there is of course the upcoming spin off Ballerina) in John Wick’s story knows that turning everything up to eleven is how to keep the audience enraptured. The movie might be a tad too long and saggy in some places, but when it hits, it hits with everything one wants and sometimes a little more. An action epic for the ages.

Director: Chad Stahelski

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Lance Reddick

Writers: Shay Hatten, Michael Finch (Based on characters created by Derek Kolstad)

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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