John Wick: Chapter 4, 2023.
Directed by Chad Stahelski.
Starring Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Ian McShane, Kamel El-Torky, Bill Skarsgård, Laurence Fishburne, Clancy Brown, Hiroyuki Sanada, Lance Reddick, Shamier Anderson, Rina Sawayama, Scott Adkins, Aimée Kwan, Marko Zaror, Natalia Tena, and George Georgiou.
John Wick uncovers a path to defeating The High Table. But before he can earn his freedom, Wick must face off against a new enemy with powerful alliances across the globe and forces that turn old friends into foes.
The first line of dialogue in John Wick: Chapter 4 is simple and to the point: “the motherfucking king has returned”‘. After seeing the movie, it’s safe to say that director Chad Stahelski is the current motherfucking king of staging action.
Yes, there is more of the same martial arts-infused gun-fu with tweaks (even the most generic of henchmen are rocking durable armor) that’s just as thrilling as before, if not more so. There’s an extended fight scene set inside a wide-open area filled with flashing glass panels that serves as a creative playground for Keanu Reeves’ John Wick (you can practically feel your body breaking down alongside him just from watching every remarkably executed and tiring action sequence) and a lethal nunchuck/gun combination.
Toss in Donnie Yen as blind assassin Caine, formerly a friend of John Wick but now pitted against him through his service to ruthless High Table (the faces that run this intricate guild, and faces that can instantly be replaced before a dead body becomes cold) member Marquis de Gramont (a delightfully unhinged and sadistically arrogant Bill Skarsgård), and that makes for another refreshing dynamic for battles.
Caine’s tough predicament is one of John Wick: Chapter 4‘s secret weapons, as he doesn’t want to kill the titular assassin that has recently been a thorn in the High Table’s backside but will do anything to ensure the protection of his young daughter. Much like John Wick, Caine is looking for freedom and something to preserve, effectively functioning as a mirror to the protagonist, where the key difference is that all the things he has to live, die, and kill for are still alive.
The script by series newcomers Shay Hatten and Michael Finch (based on characters created by Derek Kolstad) is also smart enough not to waste some of the nearly three-hour running time on heavy-handed exposition; these two were once close friends when they were willing to be a part of this lifestyle, and it shows during their quieter, character-driven interactions. There are also not many of those, but they matter and count.
It’s also highly plausible that John Wick isn’t the only one looking to escape the demanding clutches of the High Table. This also means the film can explore friendship dynamics that don’t return to Markers (tokens by blood signifying that one must return a favor). Early on, John Wick visits the Osaka Continental Hotel run by Hiroyuki Sanada’s Shimazu, another friend from this past life who might offer assistance. Unsurprisingly, violence erupts, paving the way for his daughter Akira to join the melee, with Rina Sawayama instantly announcing herself as an exciting action star.
John Wick also encounters an assassin, played by Shamier Anderson, offering more of a tracking service to the Marquis, looking to buy his way out of the guild. He is accompanied by what he calls an emotional support dog that gets in on the action violently and hilariously. Also returning is Ian McShane as New York City Continental Hotel manager Winston, with one absurdly rousing line reading that perfectly sums up an entire character.
Complicated friendship dynamics are at play here, with many characters looking to make something right or cornered into doing something dastardly. John Wick: Chapter 4 easily has the best set of antagonists of the four films thus far; they have big and bold personalities similar to villains in the previous installments, but this time there is a depth that builds to an emotional finale as the film draws inspiration from classic spaghetti Westerns (with a soundtrack from Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard capable of mimicking that style in addition to the usual electronic beats and moody music).
If you’re reading this and nervously wondering that director Chad Stahelski got too ambitious and decided to stuff a three-hour movie with an hour of unnecessary character and storytelling, stop thinking that way. John Wick: Chapter 4 still jumps from one insane, stunningly choreographed action sequence to the next and is, miraculously, more brutal. Everyone here seems to be stabbed, shot, or hurled into a hazard more times than necessary, but it’s better to be safe than sorry when ensuring people are dead. As previously mentioned, this is more of the same, at the same level of quality and with greater character detail than anything that has come before.
However, there is nothing in this world that can prepare anyone for how innovative, electrifying, intentionally exhausting, and plain fucking intensely awesome the final hour of John Wick: Chapter 4 is. That level of engagement goes beyond caring about the characters into immersive moments during the action where the setbacks John Wick suffers are palpable.
Without giving much away, there is a relentless gauntlet of mayhem involving everything from cars (not in the way you think), shootouts mind-blowingly choreographed from a top-down video game shooter perspective, and a staircase that would make Rocky Balboa say, “fuck this.” It is exhilarating, with astounding physicality from every performer, and John Wick continues to be the greatest modern-day American action series, once again improving upon the last entry.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com