What started back in 2014 as a lean 100 minute thriller about a former hit man drawn back into the criminal underworld in order to avenge the murder of his dog has morphed into the nearly three-hour long John Wick: Chapter 4
. Overkill? Hell, yes. Is it still the best thrill ride the movies can provide, and the first must-see movie of 2023? Oh, Hell, yes.
In my review of 2019's John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
, I stated that as much as I admired the film like I had the others, I was getting worried that the movie was perhaps getting a bit too out there as it started to dive deep into its world that it was creating, increasing cast of characters to keep track of, and bizarre crime empire that was growing more elaborate with each passing entry. This latest installment, despite being longer than it needed to be, goes back to basics, and just gives what I have always admired about this series - Keanu Reeves as the stoic and mostly silent (Seriously, I think he has the least amount of dialogue in this one than any of the previous films.) killer who everybody in the world wants to gun down, due to the increasing price on his head, leading to action sequences that are absolutely absurd, but shot so brilliantly by stuntman-turned-filmmaker Chad Stahelski that they eclipse just about anything Hollywood has attempted in the action genre, save for the recent Mission: Impossible
Can I just say what a joy it is that this film (and the other John Wicks
) are edited so cleanly and allow the audience to truly savor the stuntwork and action on display? In this day and age of rapid-fire editing and heavily CG sequences that resemble so much a cartoon that we may as well be watching Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd throwing down, here is a film that reaches a kind of grandeur with its action. There are about four major action sequences in this film, each of them choreographed to a level of perfection we just don't see in film anymore, and most of them seemingly going on for nearly a half hour. And yet, they never grow tiresome in the slightest, and I found myself anticipating what the film was going to throw our way next. This is the kind of film people used to call "non-stop thrill rides".
I'm thinking back as to when those kind of movies went out of style. I guess when filmmakers like Michael Bay and the like rose to fame, people just wanted as much CG as the screen could fill, to the point that I have started to wonder if they even need to hire stunt people anymore, or if everything is just done on a laptop. Here, we not only get to savor every detail, but the movie treats us to sights audiences have never seen before. It would be a disservice to talk about them here for those reading who have not seen the film, so I'll simply say I commend every actor, crew member, stuntperson, effects artist and the like who brought these sequences to such vivid life. Sure, some questionable CG does sneak in there and takes you out of the moment, but this is still leagues beyond most of the stuff that is considered acceptable action in your modern day epic or blockbuster.
The plot picks up with Wick (Reeves) still on the run and killing anyone trying to collect the bounty that's been placed on his head by the lead heavy of this entry, the Marquis de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård). The Marquis is also cleaning up some messes for his criminal organization, the High Table, which could spell trouble for some of the returning characters that Wick has had run-ins with in the past. This entry sends John Wick all over the world, including Japan, Berlin and Paris, with the very best moments saved for Paris, although the action in Japan and Berlin would be worthy climaxes in just about any other film you care to mention. There are some familiar faces with Lawrence Fishburne and Ian McShane, and many welcome new ones like the always-awesome Hiroyuki Sanada, as the head of the Japanese syndicate, and the equally-awesome Donnie Yen as a blind killer who has a past with Wick (as everyone seems to in these movies). Shamier Anderson also gets to stand out as another killer who is never without his emotional support dog, and will only go after John Wick when the price is right.
Despite the movie's bloated nearly three hour run time, John Wick: Chapter 4
never gets bogged down, and feels as light and as fast-paced as many much shorter films. That's because the movie doesn't get quite so bogged down in the world and the details as some of the sequels did. Here's Keanu as Wick, he kicks ass as he should, and the crowd goes nuts as they should. This series is one of the few films I can think of that can elicit audible gasps from its audience from some of its more painful or brutal stunts, and I will admit, some came from me. There are few films that I can label as being a pure rush of excitement, but this is one of those times. Even when the movie does slow down, I was still gripped, because we've come a long way with these characters, and after four entries, this one gets to go out perhaps the only way it could have.
This is a movie to watch with a large audience on opening weekend, one that is fully engaged and along for the ride. It's the kind of experience that only the theater can provide, and why it must survive. Watching this streaming on a laptop should be a crime. See it on the biggest screen possible, cheer, scream and gasp, and just go for the ride that this movie provides.