REVIEW: 'John Wick: Chapter 4'

Wow. Just… wow.

March 24, 2023

John Wick: Chapter 4 opens with an homage to the most famous shot in Lawrence of Arabia, as Laurence Fishburne blows out a match in New York and the movie slam-cuts to a shot of the desert in North Africa. Director Chad Stahelski is making an announcement here: The little B-movie he made in 2014 called John Wick, about a grieving suburban widower and retired mob assassin who takes revenge for the killing of his dog, has birthed an epic. The second and third installments of the franchise took Keanu Reeves's John Wick out of New York and into Europe and Asia and Morocco in search of more people to kill. But the sheer scale of John Wick 4 dwarfs those lesser sequels in impact and jaw-dropping effect. Not only that, it pretty much dwarfs any other action movie made in the past 10 years aside from Mission: Impossible—Fallout. In that sense, it more than earns its claim to David Lean-like filmmaking.

Like Lean's great films, this one is long, running just a bit shy of three hours. Unlike Lean's films, it's a lunatic potboiler with a body count that might even make Quentin Tarantino say, "You know, this might be a bit much." Still, the only proper response to this thing is: Wow. I'm not a hyper-violence guy, and this is a hyper-violent movie, but I know masterful filmmaking when I see it, and this is some by-damn masterful filmmaking, and I didn't look at my watch once.

And it really does turn the original John Wick inside out. The great surprise of that came-out-of-nowhere picture wasn't just Stahelski's brilliant staging of the hand-to-hand fight sequences, which ditched the quick-cut chaos of Michael Bay's confrontation scenes in favor of a Gene Kelly/Fred Astaire elegance showing you every move and twist and turn the way you can see the entire dancing body in a classic MGM musical. It was also the turn it took about an hour in, when it turns out that the assassin John Wick is a veteran operative inside a secret world of thieves, murderers, and criminals that exists quietly alongside our own and is run out of a posh hotel near Wall Street called the Continental. That mythological world was just great fun, and unexpected, but the first John Wick was still a movie about a guy and a dog and the idiot son of a Russian gangster who was going to pay for what he did to the pooch.

John Wick 4 is all mythology, and I don't know if you'd be able to make sense of the Continental world if you haven't seen any of the others. But who cares. When people aren't fighting, John Wick 4 is just gorgeous to look at no matter where you are—Osaka or Paris or Berlin or the Gobi Desert. And when they are, you just sit there with your jaw dropped in amazement. There's a staggering sequence set on a series of outdoor staircases, which Wick has to get to the top of, and he keeps getting waylaid again and again.

And I don't even want to tell you about the movie's central showstopper, except to say it takes place at night in a famous spot in Paris. It involves cars, motorcycles, buses, and pedestrians, and you have never seen anything like it.

As usual, Reeves brings a kind of hypnotic woodenness to his acting—if you can call it acting—here. He barely speaks, he barely changes expression, and he utters maybe 50 words in the entire picture. But that's Reeves in these fights, or he's in enough of the fights anyway to display a committed physicality that does make him a unique screen presence. And there are all kinds of good flashy performances around him, notably Bill Skarsgård as the movie's aristocratic villain, the John Wick series veteran Ian McShane (best known as Al Swearengen in the glorious HBO show Deadwood) as the underworld hotel manager in New York, and Hiroyuki Sanada as his counterpart in Japan. And we're introduced to a budding new star in Shamier Anderson, who plays a new-generation John Wick and will likely anchor the fifth entry in the franchise if one is made.

Of course one will be made. What am I saying? This thing is going to make a zillion bucks, and it should.

Published under: Movie Reviews