John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)


As popular as the John Wick series has become it was no surprise that at the end of what was supposed to be the trilogy - John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum - there was no actual ending.  Like the movies before it the third part expanded on Wick's universe, introducing an Adjudicator, giving more lore behind the string of Continentals that provide safe refuge to assassins and introducing the closest thing we've come so far to actually meeting the High Table.  This was a man called the Elder that held out some hope to Wick (Keanu Reeves), hope that he eventually decided to toss away so he could do what he thought was right.

For that he was shot by Winston (Ian MacShane), manager of the New York Continental and supposedly an ally, and fell off a roof.  In typical John Wick fashion he managed to somehow stumble away, while at the time he was thought to be dead.  The beginning of the final chapter - so far - finds him having taken refuge with the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) and recuperated eight months later, ready to resume his quest to become a free man or die trying. 

After Wick makes it clear that he is still alive a Harbinger (Clancy Brown) is sent to the Continental to announce that it is now condemned and that Winston is to appear before a man known as the Marquis (Bills Skarsgård) for judgment.  When that takes an unexpected turn and Winston is declared excommunicado, he begins to assist the Bowery King in his efforts to aid Wick.  Meanwhile, John has taken refuge at the Continental in Osaka, which is managed by Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada), whose daughter Akira (Rina Sawayama) is concierge.  The Marquis has reactivated a retired assassin named Caine (Donnie Yen) to track Wick down, but he is not the only person pursuing him.  There is also a Tracker (Shamier Anderson) that is working independently, hoping to claim the bounty on Wick.

As usual the attempts to capture Wick fail magnificently and, at Winston's urging, John decides to try to earn is freedom by demanding a duel with the Marquis.  Only problem is that he has to be a member of a family at the Table, and this means making amends with the Russkaya Roma in order to do so.  Since the Marquis is not one to fight fair it also means braving waves of other killers in order to reach the location of the duel, where success means that he will be released from all obligations to the High Table. 

As with the previous films much of what happens is to set up characters for John Wick to fight with or to fight and kill.  Also, as usual, even if they are gone after their segment of the movie they are memorable either through their character development or their fighting ability.  Rina Sawayama had never been in a movie like this - she is in fact a pop star that contributed to the soundtrack - but was cast by director Chad Stahelski because she had the look he wanted for Akira, and her fight alongside Wick is one of the highlights of the movie.  Scott Adkins, as an obese gambler and Berlin nightclub owner named Killa, appears in a fat suit and makeup in which he had to do the stunt work along with Keanu Reeves, with the fight reminding me more than a little of Vincent D'Onofrio's recent portrayal of Kingpin.  Both Shamier Anderson, as Tracker, and Donnie Yen as the blind Caine are standouts, in many ways better than previous adversaries simply because they have a bit more to them than just being mindless servants of the Table.

I had really expected that this would go the predictable route that such movies go.  John Wick films owe a debt to both comic books and video games, and an inspired top-down battle in an abandoned apartment building itself was influenced by the latter.  That means at some point there is a standoff with the big boss.  I was expecting him to go after the High Table itself and whoever is ultimately in charge, but once again it is someone higher up in the organization than before but still far enough down the line that they are expendable, as the Marquis is reminded of by the Harbinger, who obviously outranks him.  In this we get the one true villain other than Killa, with Skarsgård playing the Marquis as both arrogant and despicable.  Despite him not being further up the food chain John Wick: Chapter 4 still has a satisfying ending. 

As usual Keanu Reeves did as much of the stunt work as he was allowed, or physically capable, of doing.  It looks great and, more than ever before, the movie's fight scenes and settings have the look of a comic book, down to the garish primary colors.  I also appreciated the reference to one of my favorite movies to emulate the comic book style, The Warriors, during the last part of the film.  While I really wouldn't say John Wick was filled with gritty realism each movie since has upped the ante on being more and more outrageous, to the point that there are now full-out gunfights at the Arc de Triomphe with everyone treating it like it's a traffic inconvenience. 

For anyone already a fan of the series there is more of what is expected, but that doesn't mean it's running over old ground.  Even when it kind of does - the whole fight at the Osaka Continental is too close in content to the ending fight of Parabellum - it's still got enough new in it to make it worth it and to make it fun.  As always this owes a lot to the movies that came before it, something Chad Stahelski and Keanu Reeves readily admit, but it's rare that a series like this would be of consistent quality.  

John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)
Time: 169 minutes
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Shamier Anderson, Rina Sawayama, Ian MacShane, Laurence Fishburne, Bill Skarsgård
Director: Chad Stahelski

 

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