Thursday 30 March 2023

John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)

Keanu Reeves is back as John Wick, with Chad Stahelski once again directing, and writer Shay Hatten (who worked on the last film) now joined by Michael Finch, and many people are saying this is the best film in the series. I would disagree, but the third act has a number of major sequences that easily jostle for a spot amongst the action highlights of all four films.

Still looking for a way out of his predicament, John Wick is coming to the inevitable conclusion that he may just have to die. He won’t go down without a fight though, and aims to at least try to take down everyone who is sent after him. The armed goons are being sent in their droves by a determined Marquis (Bill Skarsgård), but the biggest threat comes from a skilled assassin who was once a friend (Caine, played by Donnie Yen) and a tracker (Shamier Anderson) who wants to keep Wick alive until the bounty on his head reaches his desired amount. 

I have complained about some other films that start at a point not allowing for any decent sense of escalation, and you might think that John Wick Chapter 4 would have the same problem, considering the first half of the lengthy runtime, but don’t worry. While there is a risk of fatigue setting in, considering how many fight moments consist of people shooting at one another while lifting up their Kevlar jacket collars to protect their face/head, there is just enough inventiveness and style to keep you entertained until you get to the moments that truly feel as if they are taking things to another level. Every main action set-piece set in Paris, whether it involves the busy traffic going around the Arc de Triomphe or some fluid overhead camerawork showing our hero destroying numerous enemies with a gun that fires out incendiary ammo, sets the bar about as high as it can go for this kind of thing. And I cannot tell you how many times I winced during a battle on some steep steps that saw one stuntman after another take many painful tumbles.

Reeves is still perfect in the lead role, more action than words (but able to show both his determination and tiredness while leaving piles of corpses in his wake), and all of the returning players, such as Laurence Fishburne, Lance Reddick (RIP, his role here is all the more poignant), and Ian McShane, continue to have great fun in their supporting roles, with the latter once again effortlessly stealing some scenes with a raised eyebrow or delightful turn of phrase. Yen is a formidable opponent, and brings with him the legacy of his entire body of work (I hope those new to his skills will hunt down some of his greatest hits), and the same can be said for the great Hiroyuki Sanada, in a relatively small, but pivotal, role. Anderson is good fun, and he gets to give orders to the talented killer dog in this movie (which is great, but sadly not as entertaining as the dogs owned by Halle Berry in the previous instalment). Then there’s Bill Skarsgård, playing his main villain - or, arguably, just the new boss charged with re-enforcing rules and fixing what was broken by Wick’s rampage - with a smug air of superiority, a general lack of concern for what he sees as the inevitable outcome that will go his way, and an entertainingly overdone French accent. There’s also room for Clancy Brown (always welcome onscreen, here lending his talents to the role of Harbinger), Rina Sawayama (playing the daughter of one main character, and someone who may end up on a revenge mission of her own one day), Scott Adkins, Natalia Tena, and the lower half of Marie Pierra Kakoma’s face as she DJs at a radio station named WUXIA.

The soundtrack is another corker (Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard also having been a part of the series since the first film), the production design throughout keeps things well-balanced to show us bright colours and neon lighting in between moments of stealth in more shadowy areas, and there’s an equally fine job done, as ever in this series, of blending the editing and special effects with an overview of the frenetic action.

I doubt the series will end here, but I will not be unhappy if it does. It’s hard to think of what they could do to top this. You have all of the violence and death, all enjoyably creative, you could hope for, but there are also a couple of thematic strands running through the whole thing that give it some more weight, and keep you remembering what everyone has at stake. And you shouldn’t underestimate the glee you can experience from watching our hero repeatedly smack someone in the head with nunchucks. It’s almost downright cathartic.


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