This one goes out to you, Mr. Wick.
By this point in Lionsgate’s blockbuster movie franchise, protagonist, John Wick has conducted a literal symphony of death. Provoking new enemies just as he manages to vanquish the old, the cycle of killing is still spinning strong by the time of the series’ aptly-titled fourth installment, John Wick: Chapter 4, now ditching the subtitle that the series’ third movie attempted. That movie ended with John supposedly being killed after becoming ‘Excommunicado’ by over-arching assassin syndicate, the High Table, but sure enough, John isn’t ready to retire just yet.
You’d think by now, within a world built around a literal economy of death, publicly trading murder the way most of us shop for groceries, John and co. would be out of steam. Alas, even four movies in, it feels like the true scope of John’s agenda is just getting started. John Wick: Chapter 4 not only keeps the franchise’s sky-high standards as strong as ever, but it could even be a contender for the series’ best entry to date! Considering that I previously declared this pretty proudly about 2019’s still-excellent John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, it’s compelling evidence that John Wick is one of those special movie franchises that truly does manage to get better with every new installment.
The gargantuan, near-three-hour length might seem very daunting at first, granted, but even with such an enormous runtime, John Wick: Chapter 4 never fails to capture the imagination, or even the dark side of one’s heart. It’s another brilliant John Wick sequel that brings a strange beauty to a world built on nihilism and despair, almost making a mockery of its disregard for human life, yet always struggling to climb to the idea that maybe, just maybe, there is something better to look forward to beyond destruction, of oneself and others. It’s that ray of hope for the hopeless that keeps pulling us back in to John’s latest rampage, even if the fantastic stunts and pitch-perfect action certainly don’t hurt either.
With John having survived his staged death at the conclusion of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, he nonetheless finds himself continuing to avoid the watchful eye of the High Table, while taking the fight directly to those that sit atop it. Still left with precious little friends, and virtually nothing to lose, John remains a force to be reckoned with, a boogeyman for boogeymen who has become so ruthlessly dangerous that he’s now a very real threat to the foundations of the world’s deadliest guild of international hired killers. It naturally begs the question; Is there any way out at this point?
“The rapport between John and Caine is an easy performance highlight.”
Well, by the events of John Wick: Chapter 4, a potential escape may have presented itself. After provoking the attention of High Table member, Marquis Vincent de Gramont, played by Bill Skarsgard, John is given an opportunity to turn the, well, tables against the High Table, buying his freedom from the guild’s seemingly limitless supply of killers and weapons. As far removed as he is from peace by this point, John may just be given his rest after all. Of course, John’s newest vendetta against the High Table may get complicated after De Gramont’s first move is to hire John’s old friend, Caine, played by Donnie Yen, a blind assassin who has achieved John’s desires of retirement and solace, only to once again find himself pulled back into his old life by De Gramont.
In a movie full of surprisingly great character work, considering that so much of it is practically a satire of nihilistic misanthropy, the rapport between John and Caine is an easy performance highlight. Caine serves as both the manifestation of doom that seems to creep ever closer to John with every passing moment, but also stands as the hope that there is indeed a way out for John; He just has to outlast the demons. This is despite the irony that Caine is the more lively and talkative character, delivering a disposition that’s almost playful in its shackling to the whims of fate, while John, the one actually fighting to survive against overwhelming odds, remains a ruthless war machine who constantly threatens to devolve into the very villains that he ruthlessly dispatches by the dozen, dispensing far more bullets than he does words.
The real villain behind it all however is Skarsgard’s De Gramont, a comically entitled wunderkind who buys out entire wings in the Louvre, just to deliver intimidating messages to his subjects. De Gramont is equal parts imposing and ridiculous, like many of John’s best enemies have been throughout this franchise to date. Now however, De Gramont is operating with the full resources of the High Table, outing the organization as so over-the-top arrogant and obvious that it’s inexplicable as to how it stays a secret at all. De Gramont wonderfully plays with this juxtaposition in influence and practicality, existing as a fantastic cartoon villain with a sharp edge, albeit one that nonetheless still fits into this exaggerated world of ultra-efficient murderers.
Even as the true threat behind the High Table is seemingly laid bare however, one of the most surprising developments in John Wick: Chapter 4 is that it still leaves most of the organization and its lore up to the viewer’s imagination. There are always more surprises lurking around every corner of John’s world, as this latest sequel once again takes the franchise in an unexpected and thrilling new direction. Even John Wick: Chapter 4’s gargantuan three-ish-hour runtime still ends by leaving most of this exciting universe rife with potential and gleefully unexplored as well, a fact that stands as an outstanding testament to the sheer, pitch black creativity behind this franchise.
The personalities of John Wick continue to strike the perfect balance between subtle development and interpretive shadiness throughout its fourth installment, but no doubt most viewers are coming for the window dressing; The litany of mass killing as it unfolds across a legion of warring factions, all under the High Table’s jurisdiction. Every John Wick sequel to date has done an excellent job elevating the scale of its brutal, balletic battles, and John Wick: Chapter 4 is no exception, bringing John’s virtually one-man war to new globetrotting corners as he faces another army of highly-trained cannon fodder.
It would be absolutely criminal to spoil the many incredible action set pieces throughout John Wick: Chapter 4. Ideally, one shouldn’t even watch its trailers, exciting as they are. The best way to experience this movie is not knowing much of anything regarding how its action scenes will ultimately unfold. In defense of Lionsgate’s nonetheless exciting marketing campaign for John Wick: Chapter 4 though, most of the movie’s best action beats were not spoiled in the trailers, thankfully. Believe me when I say that returning director, Chad Stahleski has continued to oversee every bit of choreography to a tee, polishing and crafting everything with an intimate sense of killer panache.
“John Wick: Chapter 4 is, quite simply, a masterpiece among action movies.”
John Wick: Chapter 4 is the kind of movie that proves why we need to recognize and award stuntpeople at the Oscars. In a world full of disposable CGI-oriented blockbusters (not that I have anything against those, of course), the handmade masterstrokes of John Wick: Chapter 4 shine as legitimate art; An opera of bloodshed that manages to give real emotional gravitas to so many expendable lives. It wouldn’t be achievable without more of the greatest stunt work that one could see on modern film, and as with any of its predecessors, John Wick: Chapter 4’s perfectly-crafted action will prove virtually impossible to follow for a fresh batch of inevitable imitators.
You might be surprised that I don’t have more to say about John Wick: Chapter 4, particularly considering how astoundingly long it is. Don’t get me wrong though; It’s not that I don’t have anything to say about this movie. Far from it. I have pretty much nothing but great things to say about it. John Wick: Chapter 4 is, quite simply, a masterpiece among action movies.
The real reason why I have such an unusually lean take on John Wick: Chapter 4 is out of the desire to not give away its many, many, many amazing surprises. This is one of those movies that feels like its own gigantic spoiler, promising some truly earth-shattering new developments for what’s quickly becoming one of the best action movie franchises in history. Now more than ever, John Wick is worthy of standing alongside genre greats like James Bond, Ethan Hunt, John Rambo, Dom Toretto, the T-800, and John McClane, if we’re not counting the heaps of beloved cinematic superheroes. Hell, he even rivals many of these icons at this point, considering that John Wick has somehow (knock on wood) managed to avoid clunker sequels so far.
I’m truly astounded at just how reliably John Wick has continued to climb to stellar new heights with every addition to its world, crafting a series of cinematic achievements that feel both exciting and a little scary when you consider the franchise’s upcoming TV and movie spin-offs like The Continental and Ballerina. It remains to be seen if those offshoot projects prove just as excellent as the mainline John Wick movies we already have, but regardless, John Wick: Chapter 4 delivers on every bit of its promise. It arguably stands as both the best John Wick movie to date, and quite possibly the best action movie of the 2020’s, period at this point.
Sorry, Top Gun: Maverick. You had a good run.