There are only a handful of action flicks that I consider to be truly God tier. If you know me, you know The Raid and The Raid 2 are up there, along with Terminator 2. Since the franchise launched in 2014, John Wick has constantly flirted with being on their level. The small-ish revenge movie that saw Keanu Reeves getting cold vengeance for the deaths of his wife and dog has grown by leaps and bounds. The slick gun ‘n swordplay has become even slicker, John Wick’s suits have gotten better, and the world he exists in has become larger, and yet more intricate over the years. John Wick: Chapter 4 is everything this franchise has done great taken to the ultimate degree. It’s damn near 3-hours of majestic, beautifully-orchestrated violence that will absolutely blow your mind.
But it’s not quite God tier stuff.
Don’t get me wrong, John Wick: Chapter 4 is truly masterful and the best John Wick movie yet! Think about the ground that covers! I will watch it a million times over and never get sick of it. The best thing that it does is truly begin to contemplate what all of this violence has been about. Like I said, this is no longer just revenge over the deaths of Wick’s wife and dog. He’s long since done that already. So what’s this fight about? Well, the villainous High Table still has a marker out on him. He’s been under their thumb for too long, and now he seeks the peace that has long since eluded him.
The question is how far will John Wick go to find that peace? And how many of his already-too-few friends is he willing to sacrifice? This film puts that last question right to the forefront, with the death of one fan-favorite character early on. We also see the arrival of two of John Wick’s old friends: Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada, always fantastic), head of the Osaka Continental Hotel, and Caine (the legendary Donnie Yen), a blind assassin forced by The High Table to kill Wick once and for all. We also see the return of Winston (Ian McShane), head of the New York Continental Hotel and Wick’s mercurial friend, and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), who continues to support Wick from below ground. Also tossed into the mix is a mysterious tracker, Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson), who with the aid of his trusty German shepherd (this franchise loves dogs!!!) is a dangerous and unpredictable X-factor. The supporting cast is better represented here than ever before, including those who get minimal time. Rina Sawayama plays Koji’s daughter and conceierge, Akira, but she’s no slouch with a bow, either. And well-known martial artist Scott Adkins is clearly having a blast as the cartoonish, gold-grilled mob boss Killa. Smothered in heavy prosthetics, he looks like he could be Wilson Fisk’s more-evil twin, and the fight he engages in is like something out of a comic book.
It is more friends than John Wick has ever had assembled at any given time, but that’s for a reason as this is his biggest fight ever. He basically faces an entire world of assassins, led by The Marquis (Bill Skarsgard, doing his best Parisian Pennywise impression) who is handling this business for The High Table. Each John Wick movie has added depth and understanding to the complex shadow world of killers that Wick exists in. This one reveals the most by far, adding new locations, rules, legends, and gangs into the mix. A truly globe-hopping affair, action takes place from New York to Japan to Germany and more, with a trail of blood and bodies stacking up like frequent flyer miles. There’s even a sequence ripped straight out of The Warriors, and, y’know, if you’re going to borrow from something borrow from the best.
Stahelski has grown in confidence with each movie, and his directorial fingerprint has become more pronounced. He’s clearly having more fun with the setpieces than ever before, mixing up camera angles to give the film even more of a video game-like feel than ever before. And that’s exactly how John Wick should be, like you’re watching a live-action video game. To that end, Reeves slips and slides between bullets with such ease you’d think he’s being controlled by a joystick. Even the way Wick is portrayed has become a bit more outlandish, taking the fantastical aspect to another level. This time around he rocks a bulletproof suit jacket, so gunfire bounces off of him like nothing. With this, he takes on literally dozens of enemies with all of the aim and wits of an army of Stormtroopers. Wick takes his lumps, too, but it’s hilarious to watch so many shots miss him from pointblank range. You just kinda have to go with it because it all looks so damn cool. With the neon blues and reds amped up even greater, John Wick: Chapter 4 creates some imagery so hot it’ll be seared into your brain. I mean, Wick shoots guns in just about every way imaginable, and it’s always a trip to see the new ways to shoot people they can come up with. But as good as he is with guns, he might actually be better with nunchukus.
And yet all is not perfect. With longtime writer Derek Kolstad out, the duo of Michael Finch and Shay Hatten do a bang-up job of picking up the tone and energy-level seamlessly. However, overthinking the conclusion just a little bit, the final battle goes against everything the movie had been up to that point. The energy and tension dissipates in favor of a standoff that relies on rules formality. It also denies us the ultimate showdown between the movie’s two biggest action stars, the fight that had been built up for the entire runtime. That’s just criminal, an unforgivable sin.
It’s unclear what the direction is next. Recently, Stahelski has said he and Reeves are “done” with John Wick for now, suggesting it could be a very long time until we see the Baba Yaga again. With a Continental television series and the Ballerina spinoff movie with Ana de Armas coming up, the John Wick universe is alive and well even without Reeves. But the point has been hammered home repeatedly since the first movie; John Wick can never defeat his true nature. There is no peace for someone like him. Yeah, I’m thinking John Wick will be back.
John Wick: Chapter 4 opens on March 24th.