Keanu Reeves returns for a fourth outing as John Wick, but there are more than a few new surprises in the chamber.
The key to John Wick‘s success in 2014 was both its commitment to world building and its heightened stunt work. Keanu Reeves and Chad Stahelski ushered in a new era of action blockbuster that eschewed the shaky shortcuts of the Taken sequels and the grounded grit of the Bourne franchise. John Wick introduced its own little Harry Potter hidden world of rules, criminal structures, and intrigue, all built around a mythic hitman and his revolving door of hitman friends.
Each subsequent chapter has upped the ante in at least some major ways, to the point where John Wick: Chapter 4 nearly crumbles under the weight of its sleepy politicking and static exposition in between action beats that are getting as tired as John Wick himself must be. If not for the final, glorious hour of Chapter 4, we would be well within our rights to declare the John Wick franchise dead and buried.
The plot is more or less a continuation of Chapter 3 — Parabellum (thank goodness for the dropping of a needless caption this time around). John Wick is still under threat of the High Table, which wants him dead because…something that happened in Chapter 2? Hard to recall, honestly. He’s still “excommmunicado,” which means every assassin in the world who didn’t watch the last three movies wants to kill him for a hefty bounty and thinks they have a chance against his plot armor, which at this point is more like a plot force field.
“New ideas, new rules, new management.”
It truly is tiresome watching John go through the motions of nameless baddies hounding him at every turn, though the film introduces a few new faces to mix things up in the right ways. Donnie Yen enters the franchise as Caine, a blind assassin and former friend of Wick now hired to bring him down. His style of fighting adds a new flair to these set pieces, though less intriguing is the big bad who hires him, the Marquis (played by a game, if not underutilized Bill Skarsgård).
At times, the film’s web of plot machinations get nicely undercut by Wick himself, the audience surrogate who looks at all this mumbo jumbo and responds with few, but punchy words. “I’ll just kill everyone,” he essentially says when someone tries to get him to do something that might do something that might matter. When the kills do come, they’re still as visceral and gutting as ever, though they build off of overlong stretches of gunfighting with diminishing returns. Chapter 4 really is a stomachache from too much ice cream.
But if you can pace yourself, John Wick: Chapter 4 is still ice cream. Sweet, fattening, and a nice, occasional treat. It’s hard to say where this franchise can reasonably go next aside from spinoff territory (Reeves is certainly due for a reset with this character). A quick end-credits scene certainly teases stories outside the main man, and who knows? Maybe people just want to see a prequel show or some other retread that erases even more of that mystery that made that first film so blissfully exciting in its small, suggestive hints of a bigger world. Well, that world has shrunk quite a lot, and it’s probably about time we look forward to a new one.
John Wick: Chapter 4 opens in theaters March 24, 2023. Watch the trailer here.
Images courtesy of Lionsgate.
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4 - 7/10