John Wick: Chapter 4 opens very soon after the events of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. John (Keanu Reeves) has lost his ring finger to the elder, and after being shot and falling from the top of The Continental in New York, he is recovering under the care (if we can call it that) of the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne).
Meanwhile, a shady character known as the Harbinger (Clancy Brown) visits Winston (Ian McShane) and his concierge, Charon (the recently departed Lance Reddick) to tell them that they have an hour to vacate the hotel, which has been de-consecrated, and will soon be destroyed. They are ordered to visit Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård, almost as unsettling as when playing a clown) who informs them that he has been given the full resources of the High Table (the assassins’ governing body) to hunt John Wick, who they are being punished for having assisted.
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Meanwhile, John is in Osaka at another branch of The Continental, run by Shimazu Koji (Bullet Train‘s Hiroyuki Sanada), one of the few people left that he can trust. At the same time, Gramont has tasked the blind assassin Caine (Donnie Yen) – also an old friend of Wick – with killing John, using Caine’s daughter as leverage: she will be killed if he does not comply. Koji is also risking his daughter, Akira – also his concierge – (Rina Sawayama) by helping.
Also in the mix is a young man referring to himself as Mr Nobody (Shamier Anderson), who travels looking dishevelled, accompanied by a well-trained and often vicious German Shepherd. He is hoping to become rich off the back of the bounty on Wick’s head. From a first act set predominantly in Japan, we cross the world, with sections in Berlin, Paris, New York, and the Middle East, as John looks for a way out of a predicament that looks like it cannot be ended in any other way than his death. With the help of Winston, he might be able to find a way to challenge his way out of a death sentence, and Winston might be able to restore himself to his former position, which trying to avoid endangering Caine’s daughter.
When we reviewed John Wick: Chapter 3, amongst all of the positivity we did issue a warning about the scope creep of this series. From a taut, lean opening, part 2 had gone a bit lore heavy, as well as bringing in the very marmite bullet-proof suits, while part 3 was around 30 minutes longer than the first film with barely any extra plot to serve the added running time.
There was just a small hint of bloat, and the concern that further entries would become ever longer and too dense for the newcomer to penetrate. Then, after a delay caused by a certain pandemic, we learned that the newest entry would run to 169 minutes, just eleven minutes under the three-hour mark. When revisiting the earlier films, it never looks like the sort of property that could sustain that length, particularly as the action style – using the opponent’s body against them to flip them to the floor, then two quick shots to the head – was in danger of becoming a little outdated in itself. So, with all of our sage advice ignored, this was sure to be a bloated mess.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is comfortably the strongest entry since the first. Wearing its lore as an adornment to the plot, rather than something that would require a deep understanding to follow it, it takes a larger budget (this films costs over twice as much as the first took at the worldwide box office) and creates a sprawling epic travelling the world, whilst anchoring it with John as the same character he has always been at the centre of it.
On balance, the bullet-proof suits were a mistake, as it does dial down the sense of danger that we feel our characters may be in, but this is offset by ever more crunching action (though it could be said that some of the impacts John takes are excessive with regard to believability). This is the strongest, most poignant entry, as John understands that there may not be a regular life out there for him and, at the same time, his thoughts are starting to drift towards how he would like to be remembered. It is not quite funereal, but the film does carry an air of finality throughout, despite there being more planned for the wider franchise going forward.
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So that is it for story and character. The John Wick films are best regarded, however, for their action. In this regard (the dumb suits aside), this is probably the strongest we have had to date. There are simply so many great sequences that will live with the viewer long after the film has ended. The Osaka sequences from the film’s first act set a decent bar – probably on-par for the series as a whole – but we ain’t seen nothing yet. A great nightclub fight sequence with a German gangster is followed by a bird’s-eye view moving through a dilapidated house in a ballet of extraordinary choreography and timing, with all sequences scored distinctively.
Paris features several set-pieces with the Arc de Triomphe and an extended flight of stairs both featuring action you have not quite seen before, all leading to an emotional pay-off that manages to suit a film series not very big on emotion (mostly), and leaves the franchise in a situation where it can plausibly stop or, given certain ambiguities, could well continue. For the time being, we are left with what feels like closure to the finest action series of the last ten years, signing off with a satisfying, ambitious, technically outstanding entry.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is out now in cinemas.