Much like the title character, the film of John Wick 4 is bulletproof. No one is going to care that the physics in this film are nearly as wack as those in the “Fast and Furious” franchise. No one is going to care that hundreds of people dancing at a club will ignore multiple murders among them on the dance floor and keep dancing, until it is time for the lead character to make his escape. No one is going to wonder why every law enforcement agency in the world is ignoring the greatest serial killer on a spree in history. We want to see the damage that John Wick can do with a gun, a sword, hell even nunchucks. Let the mayhem commence and pass the popcorn.
The original John Wick was a revenge story, centered around the theft of a car and the murder of a puppy. It had the advantages of being fresh, bloody and reminding us why we enjoyed Keanu Reeves in the first place. John Wick Chapter Two is a Universe building, action sequel that indulges our fetishes’ for cars and guns and lots of hand to hand death. John Wick Chapter Three Parabellum does the best job of taking characters and giving them something to do, and giving us interesting characters, who are both opposed to Wick and allied with him. John Wick 4 extends the choregraphed mayhem effectively, but falls flat on creating new characters, with one major exception. In my ranking, this would be the weakest entry of the films, but that does not mean it is unworthy, it simply means that you need to keep a little perspective.
Of the things that this film has going for it, the first would be the incredible stunt team. There are four or five sequences, where the technical level of excellence just keeps climbing. I thought that they had peaked with the scene at the Arc de Triomphe roundabout. The cars move in a ballet of collision and surprise. [Once again, the fact that anyone, much less our lead who has multiple hits, survives one of these moments is irrelevant]. Yet right behind that fantastic sequence is the best fight sequence of the film, and maybe the second best in the series. The stairs at the Sacré-Cœur’s church are many and high, and John has to get by dozens of assailants, at least twice. Sure there is going to be plenty of CGI enhancement, but it looks so much more like a practical shoot than some other moments in the film, and that sells it even more.
There are three significant new characters introduced in the film. The Marquis played by Bill Skarsgård, is an effete antagonist who is never very interesting and never feels threatening. Donnie Yen, a martial arts film legend, is on the other hand, compelling in almost every scene he is in, even when he is simply having something to eat while everyone else is getting their asses handed to the. Shamier Anderson is a character called a tracker, but he refers to himself as nobody. “Nobody” as a character idea is ok, but there is so much ambiguity about him that we never care that much about the resolution of his story, his dog on the other hand is awesome.
The late Lance Reddick gets a nice tribute slide before the film plays, and his character is only in the movie for a brief amount of time. Lawrence Fishburne is in the movie because his character was in two previous movies and that’s about it. Hiroyuki Sanada, another martial arts star, plays a part very similar to his character in “Bullet Train“. I am always happy to see Clancy Brown in a movie, “Rawhide” is a welcome sight to this Blue Blaze Irregular. If the characters had gotten half the detail that is given to imagined culture of “The Table”, the nearly three hours that this film takes up might be a little more reasonable. We have to go down a rabbit hole of crime families, rituals, rivals, and “ancient ways”, just to get to the third act. And still most of this is rushed by so there can be another action sequence. John Wick 4 sometimes feels like a better version of “Shoot ‘Em Up”. It is better, but after a modestly paced openings few minutes, everyone can see the roller coaster highs and drops that are coming.
I know this sounds like I am down on the film. This is a terrific action piece that will satisfy fans of the series, and I think the story arc is sufficiently closed for us. Keanu continues to generate good will with these movies, it just doesn’t feel fresh to me, and after having had three previous servings of the main course, it might have been nice to have a different entrée, rather than just putting a better sauce of the one we have already had.