John Wick’s still having a real rough time. Although It’s been nearly ten years since we were introduced to the titular hitman and his quest for canine-fuelled revenge, the entirety of the last three movies have only taken place over the matter of about two weeks. In those two weeks, he’s gone from the underworld’s biggest (retired) boogeyman to its biggest target. But if John is gonna go out, he’s gonna go out swinging for the fences; and in John Wick: Chapter 4, he achieves that goal and then some.
Chapter 4 starts off a short while after the last film, with John Wick (Keanu Reeves) recovering from his injuries and waging a one-man war against the High Table, the criminal organization that runs the entire underworld. In retaliation, the Table has given unlimited resources to one of their members—The vain Frenchman, Marquis de Garmont (Bill Skarsgard)—to hunt Wick down and to punish anyone who dared trying to help him, including his closest allies Winston (Ian McShane) and Charon (Lance Reddick).
On top of an army of assassins, the Marquis also forcibly brings out of retirement another of John’s oldest friends, a blind assassin named Caine (Donnie Yen). As the bounty on his head gets higher and his list of remaining allies gets smaller, John makes a discovery that might finally give him freedom from the Table’s hitlist for good. But he’s gonna have to go through a whole lot of killers around the world to get there.
Clocking in at a gargantuan 2 hours and 49 minutes, Chapter 4 is a whole lot of movie. Paying clear homage to Lawrence of Arabia and Sergio Leone westerns, director Chad Stahelski clearly leans into the epic scale the franchise has grown into. Keanu’s fantastic performance as Wick feels reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s iconic Man With No Name, even down to making the few words that John speaks hold massive weight. Despite the running time, Chapter 4 never feels like it’s spinning its wheels or slowing down for the sake of it.
“…if John is gonna go out, he’s gonna go out swinging for the fences; and in John Wick: Chapter 4, he achieves that goal and then some.”
Although it’s unfortunate we don’t get to spend a lot of time with a lot of the returning characters like Winston, Charon and the Bowery King (a scenery-chewing Laurence Fishburne), all the new characters are very welcome additions to the world. Bill Skarsgard’s Marquis is suitably irritating and menacing, Veteran scene-stealer Hiroyuki Sanada and pop star Rina Sawayama are impressive in their short appearance as a badass father/daughter duo who manage the Osaka branch of the Continental, highly underrated action star Scott Adkins chews as much scenery as possible in his prosthetic-filled role as the Penguin-esque mob boss Killa, Shamier Anderson shines as The Tracker, a freelance who plays temporary friend and foe to Wick for financial reasons (and comes with his own skilled dog).
However, it’s Donnie Yen who takes the movie from everyone with his layered performance. The moments where both John and Caine talk about their similar lives and shared history in-between attempts to kill each other give a real sense of pathos that hadn’t been overtly present in the franchise before now.
“John Wick: Chapter 4 is the most exhausted I’ve been by an action movie since The Raid 2, and I truly mean that in the best way possible.”
That being said, make no mistake, Chapter 4 is stuffed to the brim with action. It feels like Stahelski, Reeves and the entire stunt team lived by a mantra: “create the coolest action scene you’ve ever seen, and then top it with the one right after.” An early fight between Reeves and Yen constantly jumps between gun-fight and sword-fight. Another standout fight includes Reeves and Atkins having a martial-arts brawl in a crowded club (where hilariously, everyone else in the club is still dancing despite the bodies falling near them). Every scene makes great use of their varied locales, features some of the series’ best fight choreography and is shot beautifully, with the series’ signature dark, neon colours and pulsing soundtrack.
Chapter 4’s true peak is in its third act: A one-hour, back-to-back gauntlet of some of the most creatively insane action set-pieces I’ve ever seen. One moment, John is fighting in the middle of heavy speeding traffic at the Arc de Triomphe, the next he’s blasting rooms full of enemies in a tracking shot sequence that feels like the closest we’ll get to a live-action Hotline Miami. Half this review could be focused on simply describing everything that happens in this gauntlet, but it’s an absolute sight to behold. I spent half the time marveling at how no one was seriously injured filming any of it.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is the most exhausted I’ve been by an action movie since The Raid 2, and I truly mean that in the best way possible. It’s likely not the last we’ll see of the Wick-iverse (there’s still the Ballerina spin-off and a Continental prequel miniseries on the way), but John Wick: Chapter 4 has the air of a grand finale. It’s astounding how this franchise has steadily improved with each instalment, and this time around, Stahelski and co. laid all their cards down on the table and crafted an action masterpiece. Bravo, Mr. Wick.