Review – John Wick: Chapter 4

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Overview

Synopsis John Wick faces the challenge of having to confront the High Table and find a way out of being hunted by the world's most dangerous assassins.

Length 2 hours 49 minutes

Release Date March 24, 2023

 

Rating R

Distribution Lionsgate

Directing Chad Stahelski

Writing Shay Hatten, Michael Finch

Composition Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard

Starring Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgård, Laurence Fishburne, Hiroyuki Sanada, Shamier Anderson, Lance Reddick, Rina Sawayama, Scott Adkins, Ian McShane

After a four-year wait and multiple delays related to schedule conflicts and the pandemic, the John Wick franchise is finally back with its fourth film. In the nearly eight and a half years since John Wick premiered in late 2014, the scrappy first film has grown into Hollywood royalty with cameos from almost every great action star and character actor in contemporary cinema. Now it all leads up to this, with director Chad Stahelski bringing the story arc of his four films to a momentary close.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: R-rated action violence: stabbing, shooting, brawling, and some gore. A character has their hand sliced in half brutally on screen.
Language/Crude Humor: Some severe language throughout the film.
Drug/Alcohol References: Characters casually drink alcohol.
Sexual Content: Limited to none.
Spiritual Content: A major set piece moment takes place in a church, with characters contemplating salvation and the afterlife.
Other Negative Content: Themes of revenge and violence.
Positive Content: Themes of justice, love, and consequence.

Review

There’s a narrative some of my colleagues have discussed lately about the John Wick films, namely that they’ve “lost the plot.” And I must admit that it is easy to agree with this position. Despite the amount of impressive filmmaking that goes into these films, they philosophically broke the first film almost immediately. 

The first film was a passion project; a very low-budget action film produced on the cheap by two industry veteran stunt filmmakers and their friend, Keanu Reeves. John Wick Chapter 2 is my favorite film in the franchise, largely because it leans into the cartoonish vision of the world floating around at the seams of the first film. But even then, the cracks were showing. By the third film, our protagonist had no discernible realistic character motivation to justify the carnage he was delivering. 

I’m happy to say that John Wick: Chapter 4 does improve upon this problem by addressing the narrative problems the franchise accumulated in the last nine years quite directly. In just the first ten minutes, characters are already directly asking him about his endgame. 

The fourth John Wick film is set sometime after the events of the original three movies. John is wanted by the High Table for the death of a prominent member, and their tactics for tracking him down start becoming more brutal over time. 

Faced with the inevitable fact there is no ultimate way to kill everyone, John Wick discovers that it is technically possible for him to fix things—by earning himself back into the good graces of the Russian Mob and challenging the High Table member (Bill Skarsgård) responsible for hunting him down to single combat.

In order to do that though, he is forced to directly confront two extremely dangerous agents at every turn who are talented enough to directly challenge him—a tracker named Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson) and a blind assassin and former friend named Caine (Donnie Yen). 

Without spoiling John Wick: Chapter 4, I am happy to say the film was what I had hoped it to be. It does a good job closing the story arc of the last three films in a mostly satisfying way and ratcheting up the character drama, this time by tying the stakes directly to Wick’s guilt about his increasing body count.

It becomes very clear throughout the film our protagonist is uncomfortable with the sheer number of his allies and former friends that are being killed in the High Table’s effort to assassinate him. He wants a way out, but he also understands the horrific realities of what he’s doing. 

Film critics have pointed out in the previous films that the High Table functions much like Mount Olympus in mythology, and like the Greek gods, they are not being to be negotiated with, even by a boogeyman like John Wick. But they can be bartered with, and their rules subverted. 

At times, the film’s continued reliance on its labyrinthian lore and rules becomes ridiculous. It’s hard not to admit that the film’s ultimate solution for Wick’s plan comes as a bit of a contrivance, like the writers are struggling to invent a whole new set of rules to write themselves out of a narrative corner. 

It helps though that the film’s three-hour runtime gives plenty of space for John to earn every step of the process. It adds to the futility of the premise, a constant sense of endless exhausting pain and horror that our nearly unstoppable protagonist is being forced to overcome. You really get the sense by the conclusion that these characters earned their endings by the very skin of their teeth. 

John Wick: Chapter 4 isn’t the best film in the franchise, but it is very much the sequel I’d hoped for back in 2017 when the second film left our character in precarious circumstances. It addressed the majority of my problems with the sequels and let the endless impressive physical prowess of its stars handle the rest. 

Positives

+ Solid story
+ Beautiful choreography and cinematography
+ Great performances and cameos

Negatives

- Excessive length
- Some occasionally muddled character work and story logic

The Bottom Line

John Wick: Chapter 4 brings nine years of stories in this universe to a momentary conclusion with panache and effort to spare, continuing to show Keanu Reeve's immense skill for physical combat and action storytelling.

 

8

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

1 Comments

  1. Jessica Holmes on March 25, 2023 at 7:10 pm

    Just saw this movie today. You’re so right that the early films lost the plot and this one really wrapped it up. I was saddened by the way it ultimately ultimately wrapped up but I can also see the logic in it as well. The post-credits teaser has me a bit anxious that they’re reaching for another cash grab but we will see. Also, John Wick’s plot armor is thicker than the earth’s crust and it’s insane xD

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