john wick chapter 4
via Lionsgate

Review: ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ brings the franchise to dizzying new heights and patience-testing lengths

New converts may not be won over, but 'John Wick' fans will be left with their jaws on the floor.

The evolution of the John Wick franchise has been fascinating to trace from its origins as a low budget and glorified B-movie that looked like just another run-of-the-mill Keanu Reeves shoot ’em up, to a full-blown cinematic universe that’s got both a prequel TV series and a feature-length spinoff on the way. Expansion almost always leads to the law of diminishing returns, though, but that most definitely isn’t the case with the spectacular Chapter 4.

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While the saga has been rightly commended for rewriting the rulebook for how action sequences should be choreographed, lit, and shot, another of John Wick‘s most widely-praised elements is the intricately-knotted and tightly woven mythology of the assassin underworld. “Lore” is a word that makes many people shudder, but if you’re seeking the next evolution in the ongoing arc of the title hero, then expect there to be just as much exposition as there is ass-kicking. Spoiler; there’s no shortage of both.

We last saw Mr. Wick left for dead after plummeting to his so-called demise from the top of the New York Continental after seemingly being betrayed by Ian McShane’s longtime associate and mentor Winston. Of course, the final scene left the door wide open for the vengeful dog-lover to return with an axe to grind, which would be an understatement given that a pickaxe is just one of many weapons to feature throughout; a list that also includes body parts, nunchucks, canine companions, old-school archery, various vehicles, and even a playing card.

john wick chapter 4
Image via Lionsgate

There were concerns that Chapter 4‘s status as the first without creator and longtime writer Derek Kolstad would suffer in his absence, and even if there’s a noticeable lack of what you could genuinely describe as an engaging narrative, it’s easy to forgive when the procession of set pieces documenting Reeves bludgeoning and brutalizing his way from point A to C via a bone-crunching stop-off at B is so dementedly entertaining to witness unfold.

It’s almost as if the creative team were throwing assorted nouns and verbs to come up with the latest shenanigans for John Wick to get himself into, which is intended as a compliment in this case. A shootout… with camels? Sure, let’s put it in there. Pistols at dawn… in Paris? Yep, let’s add that to the list. Donnie Yen… with a sword… but blind? A little Rogue One, but it’ll do.

That’s the essence of the entire franchise in a nutshell; even though the sprawling residents and antagonists associated with the various Continentals are always depicted as Very Serious People doing Very Serious Things – with the hand-to-hand and weapon-based combat being realized in all of its visceral, blood-splattered glory – Reeves and director Chad Stahelski are completely aware that they’re dedicating a huge portion of their lives and careers to something that’s inherently silly.

You’ll never catch a Wick flick winking at the camera, but the tonal balance has always been one of its most underrated assets; everything depicted onscreen is treated with the utmost portentousness and solemnity, but you can always tell the people making it are 100 percent aware that the heightened reality in which the tales unfold isn’t intended to be grounded in any sort of tangible realism.

john wick chapter 4
via Lionsgate

With that in mind, as well as the aforementioned Yen as the visually-impaired Caine, the eclectic roster are all effectively playing archetypal caricatures, with the recurring thread being that they’re all badass as hell. Hiroyuki Sanada and Rina Sawayama play father/daughter duo Shimazu and Akira and lean into their samurai-tinged aesthetic, Clancy Brown uses his sonorous tones to bring gravitas to high-ranking High Table member the Harbinger, Bill Skarsgård is the closest thing to a big bad as the malevolently lip-curling Marquis Vincent de Gramont, and we haven’t even mentioned the fact Chapter 4 takes Scott Adkins – one of the most underrated action heroes of a generation – and slaps him in a fat suit as the German-accented Killa. It’s completely, totally, and utterly ridiculous, but it works like a treat.

On a visual level, Wick is regarded as one of the best brands in the business regardless of genre, and with a butt-numbing 169 minutes to play with, Stahelski absolutely goes to town. Packed nightclubs, sweeping sand dunes, overhead views of rooms being demolished, cars burning rubber around iconic landmarks, and innocent bystanders are all fair game for a string of astonishingly-executed action beats dripping in style, atmosphere, and verve that leave you wondering how the hell the filmmaker and his crew can keep topping themselves.

If there’s one downside, it’s that the near three-hour running time doesn’t really feel fully earned or justified, and those who aren’t sold on the prospect of such a lengthy R-rated actioner aren’t going to be won over. However, the millions John Wick fans all over the world are going to get exactly what they want out of Chapter 4 and then some, which was the intention from everyone involved all along.

The exorbitant running time may end up testing the patience of many, but 'John Wick: Chapter 4' does exactly what the franchise does best, but somehow on an even grander and more gripping scale.

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