John Wick: Chapter 4, an Action-Packed Thriller

Welcome back, Mr. Wick. Four years after "John Wick: Chapter 3 

Parabellum," director Chad Stahelski and Keanu Reeves return to theaters with "John Wick: Chapter 4," a film that was supposed to hit theaters almost two years ago. Believe me. It was worth the wait. Stahelski and screenwriters Shay Hatten and Michael Finch have combined the mythology-heavy approach of the final chapters with the streamlined action of the first film to create a final hour that is one of the best in the genre. 

"John Wick: Chapter 4" opens with the title character (Reeves) 

On the run again as the villainous forces of power known as the High Table stand in his way. The main villain of the series is the Marquis de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård), a leader of the High Table, who keeps increasing the bounty on Wick's head while cleaning up the mess he left behind, including the possible elimination of Winston Scott (Ian McShane) and his part of this nefarious organization. 

The opening scenes take Wick to Japan, where he enlists the help of the head of the Osaka Continental, Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada), and clashes with a blind high table assassin named Caine (the badass Donnie Yen). 

John Wick: Chapter 4, an Action-Packed Thriller

Laurence Fishburne pops up now and then as Wick's Q when the hitman needs a new bulletproof suit, and Shamier Anderson plays a hitman who seems to be just waiting for the bounty on Wick to reach the right level so he can get his payday. More than in recent films, the action here, despite the epic running time (169 minutes), again feels refreshingly focused. This is John Wick. Here are the bad guys. Let's go!

And so they do. Stahelski and his team construct the action sequences in a way that feels at once urgent and artfully choreographed. Filmmakers who overthink their shootouts often end up with a tone that feels distant, lacks stakes, and seems more stylish than substantial. The great action directors know how to film fights in a way that doesn't sacrifice suspense for showmanship. 

The action sequences in "John Wick: Chapter 4" are long battles, gunfights between John and dozens of people who underestimate him, but they have enough momentum that they don't drag on too long.

They also have wonderfully defined stakes. At one point in the film, John and an enemy set the parameters of a fight, including time, weapons, and variables. But that's really true of all the major action scenes, where we know exactly what John needs to do and who he needs to get past to "finish the level." The simplicity of the objectives allows for complex choreography. 

We know what needs to happen to keep John moving forward, just as he has since the beginning of the first film. So many modern action films are overloaded with characters or convoluted goals, but the "Wick" films have such brilliant clarity of intention that they can be fun within those simple constructs.

So much fun. The choreography of the action can be simply breathtaking. I loved how often the world revolves around Wick and his hapless cohorts. In a sequence that would be the best in almost any other recent action film (but is only third or fourth here), Wick has to fight a made-up Scott Adkins and his army of hapless idiots in a crowded nightclub. The dancers barely notice. Sometimes they part a little to let them through, but they don't stop and stare. 

The water flowing into the club and the writhing and dancing bodies make for a visually inventive backdrop. Later, in one of my favorite action sequences of all time, Wick and his robbers fight in the traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe. The cars don't stop. In fact, it feels like they are speeding up. When the gunshots ring out in the streets in this film, no one opens the window to see what the hell is going on. 

The world outside Wick and the mythology of that world almost seem as if they can't even see the legendary assassin and the hundred or so people he ends up killing. It's a fascinating, visually stunning decision.

The world outside Wick and the mythology

And then there's what I would call action geography. So many people have tried to imitate the frenetic approach of the "Bourne" films, and the results have often been incoherent rather than good. Fantastic cinematographer Dan Laustsen (a regular collaborator with Guillermo del Toro on "The Shape of Water," "Nightmare Alley" and other films) works with Stahelski to make sure the action here is clean and brutal and never confusing. The stunt work is phenomenal, and again the gunfights feel more like dance choreography than the bland plot lines of so many studio films. There is just so much grace and ingenuity when Wick gets to work.

Of course, a great cast helps, too. Reeves may have fewer lines in this film than in any of the previous films in the series, but he brings Wick's commitment to full fruition while giving him an emotional exhaustion that lends more seriousness to this chapter. The vengeful Wick from the first film is a different character than the survivor three films later, and Reeves knows exactly what this character needs. 

Many actors would add unnecessary elements to a character that is already so popular, but Reeves knows how to streamline his performance to fit the film around him. This also allows some of the contributors to shine in different roles, most notably Yen and Anderson. The legendary Yen is fantastic here, not only in the fight, but in the moments in between. 

Most people who know who Donnie Yen is won't be surprised to hear that he fits in perfectly here, but he's even better than you'd expect. Anderson also gives an entertaining performance as a man who seems to be just a mercenary waiting for the right price, but fans of the series will notice from the start that this badass has a dog, and this universe appreciates puppies and people who love them.

The only minor chink in Wick's armor is a bit of narrative self-indulgence. There are a few scenes, especially early on, where it feels like a beat goes on a little too long, and I think there's a slightly tighter (if you can say 150 minutes would be tighter) version of this film that's just perfect.

The fans won't care. There's been a lot of talk about what draws people to theaters in the post-pandemic, streaming world, and this is a film that should be seen with a cheering, enthusiastic crowd. It has that infectious energy we love in action movies - a whole auditorium full of people marveling at the ingenuity and intensity of what's happening in front of them. It's a movie destined to be seen loud and big. John Wick fought hard for it.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post