More. More. More.
That seems to be the mantra for the fourth edition in the wildly successful John Wick franchise. There is certainly more action with a whopping 14 action sequences, nearly four times the amount in previous Wick flicks; more locations including a Bond-like global journey from Jordan to Japan to Paris to Berlin; and like so many recent films more running time at 169 minutes, and you will want to stay right to the end of the end credits to get the most bang for your bucks.
The John Wicks are indeed progressively getting longer and a little more bloated since the tight 101-minute 2014 original, the 122-minute 2017 Chapter 2, and the 130-minute Chapter 3: Parabellum. This one has grown by nearly 40 minutes, but for the most part never slows down and remains a feast for fans of star Keanu Reeves’ command of this martial arts/gun fu/now car fu too genre.
I personally have still never forgiven the first film for brutally killing off John’s lovable little beagle puppy, but I have to let it go, as the rest of the series has not let audiences down — particularly the last one with a kick-ass Halle Berry and what is still for me that amazing sequence, a masterpiece of action choreography with all those killer dogs doing their thing against the humans.
This new film opens with the assumption of the High Table, that unseen cabal of Crime Lords out to make a deal for John’s head, that Wick is dead. He’s not, and instead in a sequence that might be described as John Wick meets Lawrence of Arabia, we get reintroduced to him in the Jordanian desert as he takes to horseback in the first of those many, many action sequences which are the signature attraction here, obviously. Director Chad Stahelski, a former martial arts expert and stunt man for Reeves in the Matrix pictures, clearly knows what the audience wants and expects, and seems determined to ratchet it all up a few notches. Fortunately, even if it seems just too much of a good thing at times, John Wick: Chapter 4 delivers.
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In a switch from being constantly on the run and the hunted, here Wick is on the offensive deciding instead to go after the High Table, setting up a one-on-one challenge against their sadistic emissary, The Marquis, in order to get the target off his back. This leads to a fresh series of tight situations, and unholy alliances with returning and new characters. Chief among them is Donnie Yen’s sometimes friend, Caine, but out of necessity here to save his daughter now foe as well. In yet another role in which he is blind (as in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) he is pitted against Wick, none more effectively than in a mirrored room adorned with Japanese artifacts where the two battle each other with Caine using sword and pistol against Wick’s samurai sword, guns, and AR15. It is dazzling. So too is a Paris-set sequence where the series puts this antihero in the driver’s seat of a classic muscle car, rampaging through the streets of Sacre Coeur where Bill Skarsgard’s The Marquis rules. So too is another prolonged set piece in a Berlin nightclub where he faces another new foe, the appropriately named Killa (MMA star Scott Adkins), and yet another in the Osaka Hotel run by John’s confidante Shimazu (Japan film icon Hiroyuuki Sanada). I could go on. And then there is the big finale, a modern-day martial arts riff on the classic duel to the death, this one presided over by the aging man known only as the Harbinger (veteran Clancy Brown).
Reeves truly continues to impress, seemingly getting better at this stuff with each franchise (following four Matrix films where he honed his initial skills). His characters are men of few words, but who needs a lot of dialogue anyway? The casting in this one with two giants of the genre Yen and Sanada really takes the series to new levels, and Skarsgard seems to be having a swell time playing a lethal guy we love to hate. Shout-out as well to new cast member Shamier Anderson as The Tracker, a killer with a faithful Belgian Malinois (this series does seem to employ a lot of dogs) that not only is a faithful companion but also pretty fearsome when the situation calls for it. Rina Sawayama makes an impressive feature debut as Shimazu’s skilled daughter and concierge of his Osaka hotel.
Returning to the series is Laurence Fishburne as Bowery King, the kingpin who oversees an underground underworld operation and remains a mysterious friend for Wick, as well as Ian McShane’s Winston, the owner of the hired killers paradise, the New York Continental Hotel. Lance Reddick again plays the ever-helpful concierge at that one.
Just as big a star as any of these actors would be Scott Rogers, the lead stunt coordinator/choreographer who helps stage these spectacular set pieces. The ending promises more down the road, but in what direction we will have to wait and see the inevitable John Wick: Chapter 5.
Producers are Basil Iwanyk, Erica Lee and Stahelski. Lionsgate opens the film on Friday exclusively in theatres including Imax. It had its first U.S. first screening Monday night at SXSW
Title: .John Wick: Chapter 4
Section: Special Event
Director: Chad Stahelski
Screenwriters: Shay Hatten, Michael FinchCast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgard, Hiroyuki Sanada, Shamier Anderson, Rina Sawayama, Scott Adkins, Clancy Brown.
Running time: 2 hr 49 min