John Wick: Chapter 4

Director: Chad Stahelski

Writers: Shay Hatten, Michael Finch (written by), Derek Kolstad (based on characters created by)

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Bill Skarsgård, Shamier Anderson, Scott Adkins, Sanada Hiroyuki, Lance Reddick

Producers: Basil Iwanyk, Erica Lee, Chad Stahelski

Music: Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard

Cinematographer: Dan Laustsen

Editor: Nathan Orloff

Cert: 15

Running time: 169mins

Year: 2023

What’s the story: After being betrayed by a close friend, John Wick (Reeves) is again out for vengeance. But assassin syndicate the High Table have sent an army to finish him, including the blind assassin Caine (Yen). Can winning a duel with the syndicate’s fixer, the Marquis de Gramont (Skarsgård), finally give John his freedom? And will he even make it there?

What’s the verdict: John Wick: Chapter 4 is 169 minutes long. Watching it is what I imagine a Mogadon-laced fever dream feels like. The pictures are saturated and vivid. The sounds frequently overwhelming. Events seem to move at speed. Yet a weird inertia holds everything low to the ground.

Even on the biggest screen (in this case the Cineworld IMAX, Leicester Square) your mind will wander. Sure, you will ruminate on the movie unspooling before you. You’ll also wonder if you can make an emergency milk and cereal run from the M&S at the station before your train goes. Oooh, John Wick is now in Berlin, entering the Nationalgalerie. I was in that building with a friend last month. They have Rodin’s The Thinker. Apt I suppose as a film this ponderous leaves plenty of time for pondering. Yes, this review does go long. It’s almost like things run on when you’re not focussed.

Anyway, in no particular order here’s an idea of where my mind went watching John Wick: Chapter 4.

Duration punishment. Raiders of the Lost Ark is 115 mins long. The fourth instalment of the John Wick franchise should not be almost an hour longer.

John Wick by way of Phileas Fogg. Early on in John Wick: Chapter 4, Laurence Fishburne’s returning Bowery King blows out a match. The scene then cuts to a desert landscape. Some of my audience recognised this as a nod to David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. The film goes no deeper than that with the comparison. Other than, despite featuring visual effects and violence unthinkable in David Lean’s day, this movie echoes 1950s and 60s Hollywood blockbusters. It is very long, very pretty, and often very dull. 

Putting Lawrence to one side (but it is dull, sorry Steven Spielberg), this Wick most reminded me of Michael Anderson’s 1956 endurance test, Around the World in 80 Days. Over John Wick: Chapter 4’s runtime, which is two minutes longer than Anderson’s film, our hero takes in America, the Middle East, the Far East, and Europe. Like Around the World…, this latest Wick-outing has a whole bunch of story and very little plot. Meaning you are presented with a barely motivated travelogue of stuff simply happening. Bizarrely, Around the World in 80 Days won 5 Oscars, including Best Picture. Not sure John Wick: Chapter 4 will be doing that.

What motivates Wick’s rampage for this go-round? Tacked-on loose ends from the climax of Part 3: Parabellum, plus that duel, introduced here about an hour in and never mentioned before. We know, all John Wick films are slapdash plot-wise, but the filmmakers here seem almost gleeful in making it up as they go along.

Late in the day there is a full-on homage to Walter Hill’s 1979 action classic, The Warriors. Ultimately, all it does is serve as a reminder that over forty years ago Hollywood could tell a hero’s quest action film, bursting with heart and excitement, in 93 minutes.

Take your inhaler properly! Due to a reluctance at having characters standing around not saying anything for 10 seconds, no-one in movies takes an inhaler properly. Here a corpulent gentleman repeatedly puffs on one, then immediately begins talking. None of the medicine is going to hit your lungs that way.

This looks amazing. If you’re interested in seeing John Wick: Chapter 4, see it on the biggest screen you can find. The storytelling is perfunctory to the point of insult, but heavens this is a handsome film. Director Chad Stahelski knows not just to give the action space to breathe, but the entire world his characters inhabit. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen (returning after duties on John Wick: Chapter 2 & Chapter 3) and Production Designer Kevin Kavanaugh will be happy their teams’ work has been so lovingly captured.

Japan. I must go back to Japan. I used to live there and I loved it. There is a sequence here set in Osaka. Osaka is a lively city, kind of the Manchester to Tokyo’s London. I must visit Japan again.

Ballistic ballets. That Osaka sequence is based around the Japanese equivalent of the New York Continental. Y’know, that hotel inside which assassins are forbidden from offing each other. Within that luxury retreat, a torrent of action is unleashed. Gasp-and-laugh-out-loud mayhem. A rush hour smackdown at the Arc du Triomphe also has its moments. A variety of weapons are used, including knives, throwing stars, nunchaku, cars, and a dog. Problem is, most of the action is gunplay, and by now everyone knows the John Wick Gun-Fu playbook. Keanu Reeves delivers more shots to the face in this movie than most male porn stars do in their entire career. He even does it with that same grim, half-pained expression.

You find yourself craving an action scene that ditches the firearms and gets really inventive. Remember the horses’ backlegs in Part 3? Nothing like that here. A scene with John battling goons through a soft play centre would be so welcome at this point.

Yet, just when you have given up hope of seeing something new, Stahelski, Reeves and co. do deliver a gun battle in a derelict mansion that takes its cue from Hitchcock’s camerawork in Psycho. Admittedly, it’s a goody. They follow it up with a Sisyphean rumble on an especially steep set of steps. Proving someone involved has a sense of humour.

That email. Did I send that email? Yes, I remember checking Sent Items to see if it had gone okay. Cool. I wonder if they will be in the office tomorrow so I can follow up with them in person? Oh, the movie is loud again.

Anyone remember Izo? All this carnage reminds me of Miike Takashi’s 2004 film, Izo. Christ, Izo is almost twenty years old. Time passes. Sometimes quickly, sometimes like treacle. Time does both these things in John Wick: Chapter 4. Back to Izo. Miike’s film is about a samurai transformed into a cosmic force of vengeance after being executed in medieval Japan. He slaughters his way down through the ages, and ultimately personifies mankind’s inescapable thirst for cyclical violence and destruction. Izo is thrilling, absurd, and, like John Wick: Chapter 4, ultimately a little monotonous. But that is Miike’s point: all this slaughter ain’t good for the soul.

The John Wick franchise flirts with the idea of being about a warrior bogeyman (Wick’s nickname is the Baba Yaga), but the series needs to embrace the supernatural. The amount of damage he survives (including two falls here reminiscent of that tumble off the roof at the end of Part 3) suggests the filmmakers know their character can no longer be human. Do something with that idea, guys. You’ve already fallen into delirium by having John wear a tailored Kevlar suit that can deflect any bullet or shotgun shell.  

Grade A fan service. I’ve loved Donnie Yen since his villainous turn in 1992’s Once Upon a Time in China II. Here, his blind assassin Caine is the best thing in the movie.  

I’ve been a Sanada Hiroyuki fan since 2002’s The Twilight Samurai (later realising he was also the guy from Ring!). His noble Japanese crime boss is thin gruel, but he elevates the material. Watching Yen and Sanada, two titans of Asian action cinema, together on screen is premium fan service and worth the ticket price. Also delivering the goods are Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane, and the sadly departed Lance Reddick. Shamier Anderson impresses as new killer on the block, Tracker, and will almost definitely get his own spin-off movie/series. Bill Skarsgaard gives decent bug-eyed villain, but is relegated to an also-ran amidst this mayhem. Better is Scott Adkins as his henchman, Killa.

Adkins, Sanada, Yen. John Wick: Chapter 4 knows how to keep its target audience happy.

How is Keanu? We all love Keanu. He seems like a smashing bloke. And he can act. But the John Wick movies seem to choke his narrow range even more. You suspect rehearsal footage has been accidentally used whenever he delivers dialogue. When it comes to the action though, this late-50 something still smacks down better than any other movie star on the scene.

Ian McShane’s teeth. God, they are white. Brighter than the muzzle flash from one of John Wick’s many guns.

So, that was John Wick: Chapter 4 then. Dull, dazzling, slapdash, perfect, enervating, exhilarating. Will there be a Chapter 5? If this does well, count on it. Please mix it up though, Messrs. Stahelski and Reeves. One more thing: Satis iam cum latino. Non magna et non callidus.

Rob Daniel
Twitter: rob_a_Daniel
Podcast: The Movie Robcast

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