The latest (and final?) installment of the John Wick franchise burst into theaters March 24 featuring a gargantuan cast, a gargantuan concept and even more gargantuan action set pieces.
Nine years after the unexpected brilliance and success of director Chad Stahleski’s introduction to the eponymous character, the creators of John Wick (Keanu Reeves) once again proved their expertise in crafting superb and dynamic action films, although perhaps going overboard with regard to running time and world building.
The John Wick films have never fallen short on character and conceptual grandeur, and this film is no different. The High Table, a secret society of assassins, once again serves as Wick’s adversary, providing an unending slew of disposable tough guys to be slaughtered by Reeves. Featuring characters with names like the Harbinger and the Adjudicator, Stahleski’s expansive underground world has never been a place for subtlety or depth.
Fortunately, the High Table featured in “John Wick: Chapter 4” lacks most of the absurdity and convolution of the franchise’s second and third installments. While still engaging in unnecessarily complex and usually ridiculous world building, “John Wick: Chapter 4” focuses most of its running time on much more deserving action sequences. Furthermore, unlike previous sequels, it often revels in the ridiculousness of a super scary secret society of stoic slaughterers, making for several refreshingly comedic moments between the violent fight sequences.
Reeves is once again perfect in the role of Wick. He brings a performance that is intense and absurd at once to the similarly balanced movie. Delivering each line with the same throaty, calm voice, his performance borders on being slightly corny and overdone without detracting at all from the vigor of the action scenes.
The rest of the characters are also balanced in this juxtaposition, most notably assassin Caine (Donnie Yen), a blind adversary of Wick who kills as ruthlessly and skillfully as his main opponent while dressed like Ken Jeong in “The Hangover.” Also of note is Scott Adkins’s Killa, one of the most ludicrously entertaining villains of the series.
But the true strength of the Wick films lies not in their character development or world building, but in their impossibly well-directed and choreographed action sequences. There is little to say about the incredible conduction and stunt work of such scenes — one has to see them in person. Their effortless progression and smoothness belie their extremely complicated coordination. In other words, the cast and crew make some of the finest fight scenes of the last few years look easy. Despite Stahleski’s aforementioned problems with expanding the world of the High Table, he has no issue elaborating and innovating with regard to creating dynamic and captivating action sequences, with each set piece feeling grander and more imaginative than the last.
In the franchise’s previous films, one won’t remember any specific plot points or character moments nearly as much as one remembers the action sequences — nightclub in the first, catacombs in the second, knife shop and hotel in the third. This is also the case with this latest installment, with the Osaka hotel, the Parisian house, the staircase and another nightclub serving as settings for some of the most dynamic points of the series. Furthermore, the film calls back to earlier films in the franchise, especially with timely uses of the original John Wick musical score.
While its three hour running time did not drag on too much, a few of its action scenes could have been trimmed, namely the one near the Arc de Triomphe. For all intents and purposes, though, “John Wick: Chapter 4” was an impressively tightly made action film from a seasoned team and director. The future of the franchise is uncertain, but if this movie is any indication, any subsequent collaboration between Reeves and Stahleski will be another exemplar of action direction and fight choreography.
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