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‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ (review)

Released four years after the last installment in the series, John Wick: Chapter 4 is a magnificent addition to the franchise, and possibly the best one yet.

At this point, the combination of Keanu Reeves and director Chad Stahelski is a well-oiled machine churning out magnificent brutality and engaging storytelling not with ease as much as clear and steady intention.

John Wick’s latest adventure asks us all to see past our next step and contemplate our last in a thrilling outing that pushes the standard of the genre to heights that should terrify any action movie opening for years to come.

As the titular character, Reeves carries the weight of a thousand souls in his anti-hero eyes.

At first glance, he may seem driven by anger but as usual, the story is quick to question what unsettling truth is motivating this vengeful mission. There is a void in him that can never be truly filled, and everyone knows it – whether they can convince John or not.

Well before he starts grappling with his demons, the journey towards realization is shown across his face in quiet moments. Reeves is a gifted martial artist, but here we remember that he is incredibly thoughtful with what he conveys through a slouched shoulder or a lingering gaze. It is the weariness in between those dazzling fights that brings humanity to the character and no one can walk between fury and exhaustion like he can.

The quest for revenge against and freedom from the High Table takes us on a world tour through several key cities in the series: New York City (USA), Osaka (Japan), Berlin (Germany), and Paris (France). Each gifts us with unique cinematography that bears homage to films past, and even a video game or two.

The opening battle in the Osaka Continental is a standalone epic of close combat, showcasing the level of force the High Table is willing to exert upon John. Body after body hits the floor in an endless stream of high-concept museum-quality violence, setting what seems like an impossible bar at the very beginning. The seeding of sequels begins here, adding in the talented Hiroyuki Sanada and Rina Sawayama as this Continental’s father and daughter management team, along with the mysterious tracker Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson).

John has made many enemies and few friends over the years, and those sides flow back and forth.

Bill Skarsgård is calm and cruel as The Marquis, dispatched by the High Table to rid them of the seemingly indestructible Baba Yaga. There is a polished camp to his portrayal that fits instead of detracting, only achievable with a measure of restraint. The character could have easily been cartoonish in less skilled hands.

Allies solemnly move to Wick’s side, but returning characters Winston Scott (Ian McShane), the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), and Charon (one of the last performances of the late Lance Reddick) are helpful story guides rather than leads.

The most exciting of the foils is the legendary Donnie Yen as reluctant blind assassin, Caine.

Pulled out of what he hoped was retirement to end his former friend, Yen moves with a sword and wit that is twice the speed of anyone else in a scene. Caine shares John’s exhaustion but his happiness can still be found on this plane, which makes him all the more deadly. The character development between the two gives us some of the most poignant exchanges you can have in this series, and he continuously steals fight scenes to the point that some may question the prophecy.

From the flawlessly choreographed action to the top-tier performances from returning and new characters, every second of the 169-minute runtime draws you in with hardly a moment to catch your breath.

This could easily be shown as a double feature where they simply run it back, as there is no way you will be sated. The sheer abundance of quality will make you greedy by the end, after realizing that each seemingly insurmountable fight scene is followed by another of equal or greater quality.

How anyone could sleep within hours of the credits rolling is a mystery, as my entire theater hummed with enough adrenaline to punch a hole in the sky.

*  *  *  *  *
Produced by Basil Iwanyk, Erica Lee, Chad Stahelski
Written by Shay Hatten, Michael Finch
Based on Characters by Derek Kolstad
Directed by Chad Stahelski 
Starring Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgård,
Laurence Fishburne, Hiroyuki Sanada, Shamier Anderson,
Lance Reddick, Rina Sawayama, Scott Adkins, Ian McShane

 

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