The Wickiverse at its Most Ambitious
Mar 16, 2023
John Wick: Chapter 4 begins with a punch so hard and so loud, it jolts you upright in your seat. After that punch, we get another, and another, and another. Even though we expect every subsequent punch, the impact never lessens, as John Wick aka Baba Yaga (Keanu Reeves) prepares for yet another fight. The same is true of the John Wick franchise, a series that began almost a decade ago with a mid-budget action film that became a hit thanks to some of the most intense and insane fights in modern cinema, and has continually upped the stakes and scale with each new release.
But even though John Wick has been a reliable source of some of the best action scenes in the 21st century, there’s only so far this franchise can go without showing its seams or going to even more absurd lengths that undercut it. Even with 2019’s John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, it often felt like some of the same concepts were being reused, just with new weaponry and different colored neon lights illuminating the fights. But with John Wick: Chapter 4, series director Chad Stahelski and 4’s writers Shay Hatten and Michael Finch do give us an opening half that feels like a sort-of greatest hits of elements we’ve seen before—but with enough added blood (literal and figurative)—and a second half that feels wholly original, with some of the best, most exciting work this franchise has given us so far.
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Chapter 4 keeps the plot to a minimum, as John Wick is continuing his fight against The High Table, attempting to get out from under their thumb. In the opening moments, Wick heads to Morocco and kills the Elder, which sets off an even stronger hunt for Wick, led by Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård), a high-ranking member of The High Table. Wick once again sets on a mission to kill his way to his freedom, taking him around the world, meeting old friends and new enemies.
Image via Lionsgate
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For the first half of Chapter 4, it’s understandable to feel a bit uneasy about how this story is being handled, especially with that three-hour runtime looming in the back of your head. Some of the fights occasionally feel reminiscent of those from previous films, while this first half also spends plenty of time setting the table for The High Table. But despite, that, Stahelski knows how to reinvigorate these fight sequences in new ways. For example, a fight early on in Osaka reminds of several other fights set among large panes of glass in a mostly empty floor of a building. And yet, this only comes to mind in passing, as there are enough new pieces to make this all work, such as new characters like the blind assassin Caine (Donnie Yen), who has been tasked by the High Table to take out Wick, as well as Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada), the manager of the Osaka Continental Hotel, and his kickass daughter/concierge Akira (Rina Sawayama)—who might just be the best addition to this series yet. Also, this scene gives John Wick nunchucks, and that is more than enough.
Another scene later on is a bit more questionable, centering around Killa, the head of Germany’s Table. Played by Scott Adkins, Killa is in a fat suit for no particular reason, other than to make him someone to laugh at as he holds his own against Wick. This fight also takes place in a nightclub, which certainly reminds of the first John Wick, but it just doesn’t leave the same impact as the other fights in the film.
But this sort of revisiting set pieces of the past feels intentional, not just as a sign of fan service, but almost as a celebration of this series after nearly a decade. These sequences might not feel familiar to those who only saw these films once in theaters, but for those who love this series, the nods to the other films in this series feel purposeful. That’s because by and large, John Wick: Chapter 4 feels at least like this series saying goodbye to this piece of the Wick-iverse, and decide to do so in style.
Image via Lionsgate
This is especially true in the film’s back half, which is quite literally the most insane fight scenes in the entire franchise put back-to-back-to-back. It’s not hyperbole to say John Wick: Chapter 4 ends with some of the most impressive sequences Wick has ever seen, but some of the best action scenes in recent memory. Narratively, Chapter 4 isn’t reinventing the wheel from what we’ve seen before, yet Stahelski knows how to up the ante in shocking fashion. If Parabellum added knives and dogs to the equation, Chapter 4 adds car crashes, overhead angles, and some of the most absurd ways for Wick to get hurt and yet still survive. Wick is like a live-action Wile E. Coyote.
Stahelski relishes the video game logic and style for this film, as Wick’s mission sets him on side quests with different achievements to meet, mini-bosses, and even fights that feel straight from a game. For example, the aforementioned club fight almost feels like Wick and Killa could be fighting in a Street Fighter level, as dancers continue their partying, despite people dancing all around them, and one scene set at the Arc de Triomphe feels similarly gamey, but in a good way. Even one segment near the end is as if Stahelski put Wick in Smash TV or Hotline Miami.
Chapter 4 also does the best job so far in this series of building out this world in ways that don’t overcomplicate or overtake the narrative at hand. The High Table is kept deliberately vague—as it probably should be, as it only adds intrigue to this mysterious group—while it’s still a joy to see Wick’s usual companions like Ian McShane’s Winston and Laurence Fishburne’s Bowery King. But adding to the fleshing out of this world are these new characters that feel as though they’ve belonged this entire time. Rina Sawayama, in particular, is a fantastic addition, and watching her fight alongside Wick almost makes you wish the series could follow her as well. Skarsgård is also a perfect villain for this story, more interested in rules and planning than actual fighting, and Yen adds a great amount of comedy and stakes to a story that can often get bogged down in the constant fighting. Additionally, Shamier Anderson’s Mr. Nobody also adds plenty of mystery and intrigue to this story, while his reliance on his dog reminds of Halle Berry’s Sofia Al-Azwar from Parabellum.
Image via Lionsgate
But, of course, Reeves is still brilliant in this role, and it’s largely thanks to him that this franchise has remained one of the best action series maybe ever. Reeves can not only provide beat downs in pretty much every way imaginable, but his fighting is often extremely funny in its execution, and even though Wick is a man of few words, Hatten and Finch’s script makes the most of them, reminding us why Wick started this fight in the first place. Reeves is the glue that makes this entire arc work, and this is the best he’s been in this series.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is a goofy, ridiculous, three-hours of fun that manages to not overstay its welcome. Stahelski continues to find ways to keep this series from getting stale, and Chapter 4 pushes the ambition to the brink. John Wick: Chapter 4 brings this part of the story to a close with some of the most unhinged action scenes ever put on screen, but shows that there’s still so much to do within this world. Yeah, I’m thinking John Wick is back, and better than ever.
John Wick: Chapter 4 comes to theaters on March 24.
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