The original John Wick was 101 minutes long. John Wick: Chapter 4 is 169 minutes long. Does it really need to have that length? Not technically, although it uses the time wisely, staging elaborate action sequences that pull out all the stops and ups the ante on what the three previous installments delivered. In fact, the film sets a new gold standard for gun-based mayhem. What began as a revenge drama about a guy looking for the people who killed his dog has evolved into a complex crime saga with ever-deepening layers.
When we last saw Wick (Keanu Reeves), he announced his intent to bring down The High Table, that council of crime lords who control the criminal underground across the globe. He takes a major step in that direction, which angers one of its members, the Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgard). Gramont, in turn, enlists blind assassin Caine (Donnie Yen) to kill Wick. The two are old friends, so the situation is sticky, at best. Meanwhile, a “tracker” named Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson) is also on Wick’s trail, hoping to collect a bounty. Wick, still wanting his freedom, realizes he’ll have to face Gramont directly. He teams with two familiar associates, Winston (Ian McShane) and Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), to put his scheme in place.
That’s a plot synopsis without spoilers. What happens in John Wick: Chapter 4 is not necessarily as gripping as how it happens. The interesting thing about this series is the depth with which it has developed the world Wick exists in. Every sequel expands on what has come before. You can really see that in the characters’ interactions with each other. There’s a level of professionalism that underlies their criminal activities. The High Table demands adherence to a set of rules. This allows for fascinating scenes like Wick and Gramont working out the details of how they’ll square off by playing a game that involves flipping over playing card-like tiles. Such formality makes the world come alive.
Additionally intriguing is the tense vibe that pervades the movie. Everyone is on edge around everyone else. They all recognize one another’s lethality. Even when showing professional respect, these people are perpetually ready to whip out their weapons and start blasting. Scenes between Reeves and Yen are particularly fun for that reason. Wick and Caine exchange pleasantries and reminiscences of their shared past, yet both men know they will probably need to kill the other guy, so they’re constantly on guard. I love that this dynamic has grown across four films.
As for the action, it’s absolutely mind-blowing. Director Chad Stahelski takes the time to build sequences that are lengthier and more intricately choreographed than in the prior movies. A car chase-turned-shootout at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris is stunning in its design. Later, we get a dazzling gun battle inside a large building that’s accomplished in a single overhead shot, the camera gliding from room to room, looking down at the participants. A third, unbelievably insane gunfight occurs on an outdoor staircase containing 222 steps, with Wick trying to climb them as armed bad guys stand in his way. Perhaps best of all, the finale utilizes a lower-key sort of firearm confrontation, but manages to make it just as suspenseful as the grander scenes.
At the center is Keanu Reeves, who remains perfection as Wick. He has shrewdly played this assassin with an aura of cool, then added a sense of weariness and a hint of soul. Nobody else could have done what he’s done in these films. He once again performs his own fighting moves, too. Together with a stellar supporting cast and a world class team of stuntpeople, Reeves ensures that John Wick: Chapter 4 is the biggest, boldest, most thoroughly entertaining entry in the franchise.
out of four
John Wick: Chapter 4 is rated R for pervasive strong violence and some language. The running time is 2 hours and 49 minutes.