To be honest upfront, John Wick: Chapter 4 is not the greatest action movie ever made, because of course it’s not. That’s a ridiculous expectation to place on any film. Over the past decade, though, the franchise has legitimized the idea; it’s been so fantastic that, sure, one could feasibly expect this next installment to be the best action film of all time. Beyond all the history and hype, though, a more realistic and authoritative view emerges — John Wick 4 is excellent. It’s silly, a bit repetitive, and overlong at nearly three hours, and yet it is so overstuffed with jaw-dropping perfection (from a single shot to a whole sequence), it’s hard to call it anything but incredible from the perspective of an action fan.
Obviously, if you’re not a lover of great action cinema, then this is not the film for you. It is long, excessive, and obsessed with its own choreography, so anyone who doesn’t love action movies will find the whole affair to be tedious. For those who do, however, John Wick 4 may not be the best action film ever made, but it sure does feel like a mixtape of the greatest action sequences of all time. It’s a best-of, a playlist, a compilation for the diehards; it’s Now That’s What I Call Action! Combining subgenres, stories, and styles from around the world, this is one supremely cool, immensely enjoyable, and utterly epic love letter to action cinema as a whole.
John Wick 4 Takes Its Time
John Wick: Chapter 4 obviously picks up on the plot and ending of the previous installment, although some time has passed. Wick, who has already defied the odds of survival after emerging from being shot and falling off a tall building, is back in fine shape. The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) has taken in the rebellious hit man and nursed him back to health; they both have a bitter grudge against the High Table, and the Bowery King hopes that he can unleash Wick on its world and take it down.
Already, John Wick 4 feels different from all the other films. There is a breathability, an atmosphere that time can pass without hundreds of hidden assassins trying to kill you. The first three films took place within roughly two weeks, but it seems like quite some time has passed for the new movie. There’s a spacious quality, not just temporally but also geographically, that makes John Wick 4 feel more expansive, more epic, and more patient (and a nearly three-hour runtime certainly helps).
Wick travels to Osaka to see one of his few remaining friends, Shimazu, who runs the Continental Hotel in the area with his daughter. By this point, everyone knows that if they harbor or help Wick, they are essentially disowning the High Table and admitting that they’re fair game. Shimazu (a heartbreaking and dignified Hiroyuki Sanada performance) decides to stand with John WIck, and Shimazu’s men stand with him. The High Table, looking to eliminate Wick after his rebellion in the third film, invade the hotel and begin a ferocious manhunt.
Even in its massive action set pieces, John Wick 4 breathes and has room to maneuver. By incorporating more and more characters (from Shimazu and his daughter, to a mysterious bounty hunter named The Tracker and old friends like Winston), the film has an abundance of editing options, meaning that a skillfully choreographed set piece can literally last half an hour. That’s about how long the hotel siege lasts, as we are given glimpses into multiple characters, their personalities, and their motivation.
The Incredible Look and Stunts of John Wick 4
And boy are those glimpses gorgeous. Dan Laustsen, cinematographer on the past two John Wick films (not to mention the visually stunning Crimson Peak, Brotherhood of the Wolf, and Nightmare Alley), truly outdoes himself here. Laustsen and the increasingly imaginative and brilliant stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski have come up with some truly ingenious fight scenes that involve camerawork like you’ve hardly ever seen.
Wick edges closer to the High Table, believing he can stop them by dueling one of their members, the psychotic dandy known as The Marquis (played with wicked glee by Bill Skarsgård). Along the way, Wick engages in sublime set pieces, whether he’s facing off against dozens of descending men as he climbs stairs in a race against the clock, or uses a motorcycle to fight several goons in a battle around the Arc de Triomphe during rush hour. The film will occasionally abandon a realistic, grounded perspective in order to watch the action from a bird’s eye view, as if studying a bullet-ridden blueprint, or will slow everything down into stylistically pure action melodrama. Laustsen and Stahelski capture it all, and it’s glorious.
New Characters Enhance the Wick Franchise
The new character additions are some of the high points of John Wick: Chapter 4. The Tracker, played by Shamier Anderson, is an infinitely charming character who, like the film itself, seems almost like a mash-up of the greatest elements in John Wick. He’s dressed like the Bowery King’s legion of unsheltered assassins; he has a deep connection with his canine companion like Wick in the films and Halle Berry’s character in the third film; he has changing names and a mysterious past, referred to as The Tracker but going by Mr. Nobody. It’s a very cool character, and a thrill to watch him actually help Wick so that the bounty on the protagonist’s head will rise. The Tracker isn’t a fool — he isn’t going to take on John Wick until he’s worth the right amount of money.
Shimazu is also a great character. While many people pop up in the John Wick world who have deep respect and admiration for the titular killer, few seem to be so emotionally bound to him. Shimazu and Wick have a genuine connection, which makes the former’s sacrifice that more heartbreaking. Meanwhile, another close friend of Wick’s is forced into hunting him down, otherwise his daughter will be killed. This is Caine, played by Donnie Yen, and he’s possibly the best new addition to the franchise.
Yen, so renowned for his amazing skills in the Ip Man series of films, among many others, gives a breathtaking performance here as a blind man who sides with the High Table and the forces of an evil status quo in order to keep himself and his family safe. There’s a lot of guilt and grief to the performance, but Caine is also just an extremely suave and charismatic man. Watching him slurp down noodles while people kill each other around him, or listen to the sounds of bullets so that he knows where to duck, it’s clear that Yen is an absolute star. The conflicted, complicated, and infinitely charming character is frankly one of the best ever created in action cinema.
John Wick 4 Represents the Best of Action
Caine is emblematic of how John Wick: Chapter 4 takes from the action genre in order to celebrate it, almost like how Tarantino took from it extensively for Kill Bill. Caine clearly references Zatoichi, the blind samurai character of many excellent films. The trajectory toward a sunrise duel between two skilled characters undoubtedly honors the Hiroshi Inagaki Samurai trilogy of the 1950s. One tense card game (with a mind-blowing and unrecognizable Scott Adkins) hearkens back to so many James Bond films.
Motorcycle sequences seem indebted to Police Story. The films of John Woo (Hard Boiled, The Killer, Face/Off) feel especially prescient when considering the evolving allegiances of some characters. The stair scene brings to mind The Raid, and The Marquis seems straight from a Takeshi Kitano film. Meanwhile, Johnnie To looms over some of the overhead and tracking shots. None of this is a bad thing; John Wick: Chapter 4 is entirely its own. The point is, however, that the film is head-over-heels enamored with the action genre, and while it may not be the best of all action cinema, it certainly represents the best of it. It reflects all that is exciting, gripping, and joyous about the genre.
While the ending is a bit mysterious and will surely spark discussions, it doesn’t necessarily set up John Wick 5. The film almost exists in its own universe, separate from the breathless and relentless trilogy of the first three films, and able to stand alone as a kind of epic epilogue. There honestly doesn’t need to be a sequel does this, and if there is, it might actually diminish the power of John Wick: Chapter 4. Prequels and spin-offs are already in the works, which should satisfy the understandably rapacious fans. Instead of immediately anticipating another film, however, John Wick 4 encourages all of us to take a breath and admire just how meticulously brilliant and jaw-dropping it is. This is a film that appreciates action, and which, in turn, deserves active appreciation.
Produced by Summit Entertainment, Thunder Road Pictures, and 87Eleven Productions, Lionsgate is releasing John Wick: Chapter 4 in theaters on March 24.