There is simply no world more spectacular to dip back into than that of the Wick-verse. War-dogs, bulletproof suit jackets, blood-binding markers, neutral-zone hotels and- my personal favourite addition to the roster- a blind man’s tactical doorbell motion sensors. Oh my.
It’s a miracle that Chad Stahelski manages so expertly to keep the momentum rolling from John Wick: Chapter 3 straight from the get-go of the franchise’s fourth instalment: but manage it he does. The latest film opens on our titular hero hammering his bloody fist against a makiwara before briskly cutting to a desert chase sequence on horseback, with Wick at the rear. Warning: slight spoilers incoming.
After dispatching two lackeys he wanders up to the grand Elder himself, one of the main antagonists of Parabellum, who tells Wick it’s a shame but he’s ‘come a long way for nothing’. With the precise confidence of a man who’s been marinaded in action movies for a colossal percentage of his career, Keanu Reeves huskily responds, “not for nothing”, and shoots the elder dead within just 5 minutes into the film’s runtime. We’re back in the saddle again folks, and without a second to lose.
John Wick: Chapter Four takes a tiny bit longer to get into the meat of the action, but you can be certain any time spent moving the narrative forward will be met with a high-octane fight sequence at least double the length of any exposition. I can’t really think of any other franchises that have managed to go on for a long time without losing the quality of the original film, but the Wick saga has yet to disappoint. To say the films revolve around ex-hitman-turned-reinstated-hitman John Wick going on a mass killing spree for a variety of entirely sympathetic reasons, I have to say there are few films I watch anymore that bring me quite as much joy.
Aside from some of the more amusing kills, this boils down largely to the fact that the films simply reek of fun. How on earth the writers manage to find creative new ways of having Keanu Reeves murder people, I do not know. The same way that some films carry with them the unmissable stench of indolence, the Wick-verse has a vibrant force behind it that propels us from film to film. I can tell the crew must have (mainly) enjoyed what they were doing, and that feeling quickly becomes infectious.
As ever, there’s a mix of friendly returning faces as well as a whole feast of fresh characters with new gadgets and skillsets. One of the other reasons the franchise hasn’t stagnated yet is that, despite being the titular character, Wick isn’t an attention hog. Writers of the saga have always allowed the spotlight to roam freely amongst the other denizens of hitman society, and the fourth instalment is no exception. With brand new characters ranging from the elegant family of Osaka’s Continental Hotel to swaggish bounty hunter Mr Nobody and his dog, it’s hard to pick a favourite.
The Wick-verse also excels at creating powerful environments that become an integral part of the action; whether this be in a subway station, a techno club, or at the roundabout of the Arc de Triomphe. Sure, a lot of action films feature the actors interacting with their surroundings, but in John Wick the characters’ environments feel like the necessary foundation which supports and pushes each fight sequence to its full potential.
At one point in the fourth film, there’s an aerial tracking shot crafted in the style of a top-down shooter as Wick roams through the various rooms of an apartment floor. In one area, there’s a grand mirror on the floor that shatters into pieces when a man lands upon it. Such thorough set design goes even further as to be a pivotal supplementing force of the film’s gorgeous cinematography; an element which often gets relegated in action films, but Stahelski shows how pivotal it is in creating a visually stimulating scene.
Sadly, my only real issue with the film was its ending. I’m not about to spoil what may potentially be the conclusion to a fantastic film saga, but I have to say, whilst not objectively terrible it was certainly too abrupt, and did not feel like the explosive conclusion the John Wick films have familiarised us with. However, the fact it only loses its traction in the last 10 minutes of a very long run time is entirely acceptable, and detracted very little from my overall experience.