REVIEW: The Action-Packed John Wick: Chapter 4 Lives Up to its Sky-High Expectations
John Wick: Chapter 4 comes with a lot of pressure. Directed by Chad Stahelski, the film not only has to live up to the escalation promised at the end of the previous entry in the series, but also the expectations of audiences who've spent almost a decade following Wick's battles against a world's worth of killers, criminals, and assassins. Luckily, John Wick: Chapter 4recognizes this and doesn't try to change the formula or throw audiences for a loop. Instead, it does exactly what it knows it can (and needs to) do and does it well. John Wick: Chapter 4 is a great new entry into the series that finds the proper balance between escalating the action of previous films while still imbuing it with enough unique energy to make it stand out. Bolstered by a solid supporting cast, John Wick: Chapter 4 is as epic and entertaining as you'd want it to be.
Picking up in the aftermath of John Wick: Chapter 3 -- Parabellum, John has recovered physically from the betrayal of Winston (Ian McShane), which left him at death's door. While he'd previously tried to make peace with the High Table, his fury at the secretive organization's actions forces him to take a more direct (and dangerous) approach to earn his freedom from their world -- setting up a duel that could change the entire organization. This strategy elicits the fury of the High Table -- personified by the Marquis de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård), a foppish but dangerous member of that group who has been given unlimited resources to try to eliminate Wick once and for all.
The Marquis recruits several people to target Wick, including a reluctant Caine (Donnie Yen), a fellow assassin and old friend to John who has personal reasons for making sure the Marquis stays satisfied. As Wick's few remaining allies -- including Winston's loyal concierge, Charon (Lance Reddick), the boisterous Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), and Osaka-based Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada) -- find targets placed on their backs for their connection to him, another wild card enters play in the form of a "tracker" calling himself Nobody (Shamier Anderson), a young assassin who's seeking the massive bounty on John's head.
Running just under three hours, John Wick: Chapter 4 is a monumental film that doesn't necessarily feel like it. The pacing and craft of the film keep everything moving at a fast enough clip that audiences will quickly lose track of time amidst the beautifully shot and impressively choreographed fight scenes. The film foregoes the twists and turns of previous entries and allows itself to fully embrace the action for what it is. It's a confident choice that makes John Wick himself less of a character and more of a force of nature. Luckily, Reeves does solid work bringing out flashes of humanity and exhaustion in the character, even as he dispatches untold numbers of enemies through plenty of amazing stunt work.
The character arcs and storylines can be found in the supporting cast, with Winston, Caine, and Nobody getting surprisingly fleshed-out development. The decision works in the production's favor, especially in terms of turning John Wick into an unstoppable force. His consistent, formidable nature enables the characters around him to grow. The film has a truly wild kill count, even compared to previous films in the series, and the craft on display elevates it enough to keep it entertaining. There are extended fist fights, car chases, shoot-outs, and everything in between -- all while making space for personality and pathos. In a cast of strong performers giving good performances, Yen proves to be the stand-out. Yen's portrayal of Caine as a tragic reflection of John -- someone who wants to escape a life of danger and death but has given up on breaking free of the High Table -- makes him the most compelling and tragic antagonist Wick has come up against. It also allows Skarsgård to go big as the Marquis, turning him into a foppish and thematic heir to the kind of villains who started the entire series in the first place.
Between the boisterous side characters, a ridiculous Bond-villain role for Scott Adkins, and a willingness to use slapstick in the middle of action beats, John Wick: Chapter 4 is maybe the funniest entry in the series. The bittersweet and quietly somber tone of the film's softer moments ends up landing with great effect as a result, a reminder of the fragile humanity that's always been at the heart of John Wick's vengeance-fueled rampages and dark comedy. Although there are beats that feel somewhat underutilized (such as an extended sequence teasing his origins), most of the film proves that a wealth of style -- mixed with just enough substance -- can produce wonders. John Wick: Chapter 4 is truly massive but worth every ounce of effort that went into it.
John Wick: Chapter 4 opens in theaters Mar. 24.