Who knew that a little movie about a hitman avenging his dog’s death would evolve into the most popular action franchise going? Of course that’s an overly simplified synopsis of 2014’s “John Wick”, a movie that instantly won people over (yours truly included) with its ferocious style, exciting yet proudly tongue-in-cheek story, and the incandescent charms of its lead actor, Keanu Reeves. Great reviews from critics and strong word of mouth from audiences catapulted the film to unexpected heights.
2017’s “John Wick: Chapter 2” stepped up the world-building while 2019’s “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” gave some fan favorite side characters more time in the limelight. Now Reeves is back for a fourth installment. “John Wick: Chapter 4” is the biggest, wildest, and certainly the most ambitious film of the franchise. It travels to more locations, introduces a slew of cool new characters, and features even bigger and more mind-blowing set pieces. “Chapter 4” takes much of what fans have loved about the previous three films and amplifies them. The results are nothing short of terrific.
Unfortunately there is a cloud of sadness that hangs over the release of “John Wick: Chapter 4”. Esteemed actor Lance Reddick, who has appeared in all four films playing Charon, the faithful concierge at the New York Continental Hotel, unexpectedly passed away on March 17th at the age of 60. It was a crushing loss for the franchise and the entertainment world. Reddick’s passing adds an extra level of emotion to a film that already has a surprising amount of feeling baked into it.
Fans of the franchise should know exactly what to expect from “Chapter 4”. Stuntman turned director Chad Stahelski returns after helming the first three films and orchestrates yet another stylish ballet of relentless heart-pumping action. Yet more than any of its predecessors, “Chapter 4” is almost poetic in its presentation, mixing together meticulously choreographed movements, pulse-pounding music, and some of the most incredible stunt-work I’ve seen in a while.
To say the affable 58-year-old Reeves has made the title character his own would be a massive understatement. His fourth venture as the almost mythical Baba Yaga is his most challenging yet (it’s said Reeves did 90% of his own stunts!!!). As mentioned, everything is bigger including the running time (2 hours and 49 minutes) and the budget ($100 million). Yet despite its waves of violence and the massive body count (140 by one pretty reliable count), in many ways “Chapter 4” may be the most intimate and personal John Wick film since part one.
Picking up where the previous movie left off, the story (penned by Shay Hatten and Michael Finch) sees John Wick in New York City preparing to enact his revenge on the formidable High Table – the powerful and mostly faceless faction of crime lords that rules the underworld. He’s helped by The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), a loyal and reliable provider of useful information, weapons, and finely tailored Kevlar suits.
John’s first order of business is to head to Morocco where he assassinates The Elder (George Georgiou), the one person who sits above the High Table. As a result, Winston Scott (Ian McShane), John’s friend and the manager of the New York Continental Hotel is summoned by Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård), a high-ranking member of the High Table. In response to failing to kill John in the previous movie, the Marquis revokes Winston’s status as hotel manager and then doles out some even harsher punishment.
De Gramont then hires a blind yet deadly hitman named Caine (Donnie Yen). He’s retired and wants no part in killing his old friend John Wick. But he’s forced to take the contract after the Marquis threatens to kill his daughter. Meanwhile John is holed up in the Osaka Continental which is managed by his trusted friend Shimazu Koji (the always great Hiroyuki Sanada) and Koji’s daughter/concierge Akira (Rina Sawayama). Soon Caine arrives, accompanied by de Gramont’s right-hand muscle Chidi (Marko Zaror) and an army of High Table assassins. It leads to the first of several hyper-kinetic showdowns.
Among the many joys of watching a John Wick film is relishing the incredible world-building and the colorful array of side characters. “Chapter 4” delivers both in spades. Stahelski takes us around the world, shooting on location in places like New York, Paris, Tokyo, and Berlin. At each stop we’re thrust deeper into the franchise’s vibrant (and often violent) underworld network. In addition to Koji, Akira, and Caine, we’re also introduced to other fascinating players such as The Harbinger (Clancy Brown), a high-ranking representative of the High Table, a crime boss in Germany named Killa (Scott Adkins), and a mysterious “Tracker” who adopts the name Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson).
If there was ever a movie that showed the need of Oscar categories for stunt-work and choreography, it’s “John Wick: Chapter 4”. Whether throwing down in a famed Berlin nightclub or on a never-ending outdoor staircase in Montmartre; in a neon-bathed hotel in Osaka or on a busy roundabout circling the iconic Arc de Triomphe, Jeremy Marinas” graceful yet intense fight choreographer stuns and the work from stunt coordinators Scott Rogers and Stephen Dunlevy will routinely have your jaw on the floor. And it’s all emphasized by Dan Laustsen’s gloriously precise cinematography.
“John Wick: Chapter 4” is a full-on action extravaganza and an unforgettable cinematic experience. It’s an adrenaline-fueled spectacle but with a beating heart. It’s also one of the best action movies of the last decade-plus. Keanu Reeves, with his quiet charisma and amazing physicality, once again has us rooting for his tragically heartbroken yet intensely lethal former hitman who remains trapped between his insatiable thirst for revenge and his longing for some semblance of peace. John Wick has evolved into a legendary character – one who I’ll follow to his grave. “John Wick: Chapter 4” is now showing in theaters.