REVIEW: John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)

Keanu Reeves as John Wick and Donnie Yen as Caine in John Wick 4. — PHOTO: Murray Close/Lionsgate.

Directed by Chad Stahelski — Screenplay by Shay Hatten and Michael Finch.

A lot has happened since Chad Stahelski and David Leitch took a Derek Kolstad script with Keanu Reeves attached and successfully revitalized the action genre with an emotional storyline and kick-ass, high-octane action and stunt work. Since then Stahelski’s sequels have consistently upped the ante and topped their own action sequences from chapter to chapter. New locations were revealed, and the world-building just kept on growing eventually introducing everything from a gun sommelier to an Elder who you can only hope to confront in the desert. The films have gone from its gun-fu action and then added in vehicular action and sword fights. With John Wick: Chapter 4, which is the first film in the series not to be written by Derek Kolstad, Chad Stahelski and Keanu Reeves have once again topped themselves with an incredibly accomplished action epic that is both inventive and almost like a greatest hits for the entire franchise. 

Picking up after the events of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, Chad Stahelski’s John Wick: Chapter 4 follows the titular legendary hitman (played by Keanu Reeves) as he tries to get revenge on the High Table. In response to Wick’s revenge attempts, one of the High Table’s members, the Marquis Vincent de Gramont (played by Bill Skarsgård), punishes Winston (played by Ian McShane), who had failed to kill him, and his concierge Charon (played by Lance Reddick), and he then enlists Caine (played by Donnie Yen), a retired and blind assassin, to kill John Wick, who is an old friend of Caine’s. Wick’s search for revenge and freedom once and for all takes him all around the world, but in order to finally become free, he will have to invoke a risky old High Table tradition. 

This fourth entry in the John Wick franchise has something for every type of fan of these films. The first hour or so goes hard with the kind of sword fighting popularized in Chapter 3 but now with Hiroyuki Sanada and Donnie Yen going all out in a lengthy action set piece. Around the time of the third act, there is an Arc de Triomphe vehicular action sequence that rivals the opening of Chapter 2 (and, in my mind, tops it). There is a new assassin introduced here who travels with his emotional support dog, who gets to take part in the action, which should be right up the ally of those John Wick fans who were originally hooked on this franchise because of its ‘must protect dogs’ element. In general, the gun-fu extravaganza is overwhelming and features impeccable stunt work that ought to finally make the Academy give the green light for a stunt category at the Oscars. It’s all so good. Again, it really feels like a greatest-hits kind of film. 

The film oozes style (excellent work from Danish cinematographer Dan Laustsen) and builds upon the franchise’s outstanding world-building in the way that the film uses France as a location and how it introduces us to the Osaka Continental. It is such a cinematic event of a film that it even has a Lawrence of Arabia meets John Wick fever dream mash-up sequence where John Wick is dressed in black on horseback chasing foes while he’s firing guns. It is, frankly, overwhelming, but it is also so well-earned and well-established that it doesn’t ever feel out of place or too over the top. Like the other sequels, these characters are treated with this bombastic grandiosity and importance, and I think the film earns it as the action is worthy of the genre’s Hall of Fame. The final hour, in particular, is absolutely wild. It features the kind of action you feel like you can get high off, with two or three incredible sequences that set the bar incredibly high for any future sequel. Other than the Arc de Triomphe sequence, this final hour also includes this incredibly inventive gun-fu sequence shot like a top-down shooter video game in the vein of Hotline Miami, as well as a satisfyingly exhausting action sequence designed around stairs.

Acting-wise, I think the most important thing to note is that all of the new additions go all out and throw themselves into the genre. It will surprise no one that Hiroyuki Sanada, Scott Adkins, and Donnie Yen are willing and able to really heighten their action sequences. They are, frankly, great at this. But it may surprise you that singer Rina Sawayama is also quite good at what she does here. Keanu Reeves says so very little in this film, but, once again, the action and stunts speak a thousand words. Skarsgård’s Marquis may be the character who says the most lines of dialogue in the film, and I thought he was a really good addition to the universe. Skarsgård makes use of this accent that I was iffy on at first, but his accent work is good enough and he makes for arguably the series’ best-written and performed antagonist.

Now, there are a couple of things that hold it back slightly. Notably, it does run a little bit long and probably could’ve cut a couple of scenes, but, on the other hand, I think the third act is easily the best of the film series (with the previous three films there are parts of the concluding arcs that I lose emotional involvement in, which isn’t the case here). I should also say that I’m not entirely on board with Scott Adkins’ fat suit here. I know what they are going for (which I think is well-intentioned), but I feel like it’s a little bit too comedic to be fully respectful to that plus-size community.

Chad Stahelski’s John Wick: Chapter 4 is, admittedly, quite long and overwhelming, but, throughout the runtime, the film’s direction, writing, stunt work, and acting keep on building and building until they’ve raised the bar to such a height that the film stands tall as one of the best and most intoxicating action films in recent memory. This operatic action epic feels both like a greatest hits flick and a successful attempt to crank it all up to eleven in the best way possible. 

9 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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