It is said that one should never bring a knife to a gunfight. The makers of John Wick: Chapter 4 beg to differ. They’re bringing knives, nunchaku, an attack dog, swords, ninja stars, sticks and – oh yes – a busy Parisian roundabout to the gunfight.
Over three instalments (with the TV spin-off The Continental and the stand-alone movie Ballerina incoming) the John Wick sequence has exploded from close-range stuntwork-privileging action into a quasi-supernatural Wickiverse dominated by unseen forces, snappily dressed killers and the goings-on at a chain of luxury hotels that provide sanctuary for beleaguered hit men. It’s not world-building; it’s world-sprawling. Imagine Harry Potter. But with head-stomping.
Remember when John Wick, Keanu Reeves’s character, was merely a former assassin mourning his wife and avenging his dead puppy? Never fear: JW4 has a flashback sequence to jog your memory. Not that it matters. The increasingly heightened and still entertaining franchise now pitches the titular gunslinger against the absurdly evil Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård), an ambitious representative of – dun, dun, duuun! – The Table.
Before you can say “Watch out: he’s French” the former Wick hideout of the New York Continental is destroyed and its manager Winston (Ian McShane) is turned out into the street, where he encounters the secret hobo crime boss Laurence Fishburne.
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Long story short: the lads are on Team Wick, while the blind assassin Caine (Donnie Yen) is blackmailed into chasing John Wick around with assorted weapons (and doorbells).
[ Keanu Reeves: ‘Grief and loss are things that don’t ever go away’ ]
At 170 minutes, John Wick: Chapter 4 is longer than Apocalypse Now, and its primary raison d’être – what if an action movie were composed almost entirely of action? – is one stuntman-rolling-down-steps away from implosion. So many falls; so many stairs.
The bigger, better, faster impulses are counterweighted by stately paced set-up sequences staged in palatial wonders. Kudos to production designer Kevin Kavanaugh’s determination to make Versailles look like a dump. Editor Nathan Orloff’s snap transitions from prancing ponies and privilege into flurries of frames recall Eisenstein’s notion that “visual images, like words, can be joined into sentences”. But with head-stomping.
[ Keanu Reeves: ‘When we would go to dinner together, people were, like, Whoa! Dudes!’ ]
Increasingly cartoonish supporting characters include a swarthy Persian, tattooed telephone-exchange girls, Belarussian mobsters and a cackling gold-toothed German.
Shamier Anderson’s mysterious Nobody brings some much-needed grounding to the shooting party. Ian McShane, Clancy Brown and the late Lance Riddick have an absolute ball.
Reeves says “Yeah” five times, and not much more, as he hops between New York, Berlin, Osaka and Paris. Commendably, these locations, each bathed in dry ice and neon greens, reds and purples, look like cities in the Wickiverse. He could easily be stomping across the Giant’s Causeway and, in common with all things Wick, it would pass for a degenerate nightclub. That consistency with previous instalments is, in itself, a kind of magic. But with head-stomping.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is scheduled for released on March 24th, 2023