I think it’s fair to say that in many ways, Keanu Reeves and the John Wick series stands heads and shoulders above The Matrix series. Where “The Matrix” series tried hard to delve into existential concepts through great action sequences drowned by mostly nonsensical, existential technobabble, John Wick simply tells the story of a man who wants revenge exacted and a way out of a life he didn’t exactly choose. The John Wick series stays true to this idea through four movies.
Fans may have some trepidation heading into the latest chapter after the third chapter seemed to be just mindless murder porn. In this latest chapter, I believe that there is a balanced amount of story and murder porn for nearly three hours.
In this latest chapter, Reeve’s titular character seeks to find a path to freedom from the High Table, a shadowy council of twelve crime lords that govern the underworld’s most powerful criminal organizations. He needs to get his freedom because due to his past actions, people associated with him are suffering. This happens under one of the High Table’s generals; Marquis de Gramont, played by Bill Skarsgård, looking like the world’s most entitled baby-faced sadist. Under the Marquis’ role, he adopts a scorched earth policy of destroying ‘the ideals of Wick’ via turning friends to foes through blackmail, destroying sanctuaries that John could run to and more in order to get Wick to surface. Even though the path to John’s freedom, once found sounds like a straightforward one, it becomes more difficult as the barrier to that path has High Table’s machinations written all over it.
What I enjoyed most about this installment is that there is much more meat put on the bones of this story as opposed to the last movie. We start to see the implications of Wick’s actions come to fruition over the past three films. As key players have been taken down and the body count has risen, so has the ire of the High Table forcing them to take action. Wick has broken rules and a mostly silent underground organization becomes more retaliatory and it comes to the forefront here. The Marquis’ role is that palpable force of the High Table that we needed to see. One of his first acts of needless murder sets the tone of to what depths the High Table will commit to in order break John Wick and his allies.
We are again introduced to many colorful characters that shapes these stories. Ian McShane (Winston), Lawrence Fishburne (Bowery King) and Lance Reddick (Charon) return in their roles and even though their roles are somewhat reduced here, their screen time are mostly pivotal as needed. Beyond Bill Skarsgård, we are newly introduced to Hiroyuki Sanada (Shimazu), Rina Sawayama (his daughter Akira), and x-factor, Shamier Anderson (The Tracker aka “Mr. Nobody”). The standout additions to the cast are Donnie Yen who plays a blind assassin Caine and Scott Adkins who gives a shockingly good Marvel Kingpin-like performance as Killa.
The fight choreography was often enjoyable and the reactions from those around me told the tale as well. At one point there is some isometric camera work happening as Wick and several others battle through a building that really lends to a video game feel. In fact, in watching this series of movies, I wondered why there isn’t a big budget John Wick game released already. In many of the sequences, you are going to be treated to action sequences and be astonished that certain people aren’t already dead or wonder how it was that many more didn’t die from many of the stunts pulled.
If there were any minuses, John Wick 4 overstays its welcome. It really got weighted down in the third act by the many, somewhat needless battles as John Wick and company move towards the final battle which borrowed liberally from The Warriors. Realistically speaking, this movie could have been done in 90 minutes. Yes, the fights are harrowing through the streets of Paris and in one instance, there is a well-cut fight sequence on some iconic stairs. But at some point, one may feel like saying, “Ok, let’s get it over with already”. Also, the expected final fight may fall short of expectations considering the buildup.
All in all, director Chad Stahlelski did a great job course correcting this film which felt like it had run out of ideas in the last one. He also takes a page from the James Bond and Jason Bourne series with some great exotic locales for villains and henchmen to die in at night. Also, when you see Adkin’s Killa in action, it feels like a great Bond villain moment that EON productions missed. Put simply, you will not be disappointed with this latest entry. If you have been on the fence, I sincerely urge you to get caught up before seeing this one as you may miss a lot of stories in between the death and dismemberment.