If you’re familiar with the John Wick film series you’ll know almost every other aspect takes a back seat in favour of action and bloodshed. That was clear when the first movie debuted in 2014 and reinforced in 2017 and 2019 when chapters two and three came out. Expect nothing less from John Wick: Chapter 4.
As you might’ve guessed from the title, this is the fourth instalment in the series, so you’ll want to have watched the three previous films at least once before seeing this one. For the purpose of this review, we’re going to assume that you have. We’ll also try to avoid major spoilers for this one.
Sometimes the action is the plot
Some movie critics might say a good movie needs more than just well-choreographed expertly-shot action set-pieces to be called a ‘good movie’. While we’d mostly agree with them, that isn’t always true. It seems the production crew behind the John Wick franchise, particularly director Chad Stahelski, share that belief.
All four films in the series manage to cobble together some sense of a plot to explain Wick’s immediate actions. They also successfully establish the stakes and rules of this hyperrealistic world while avoiding lazy exposition dumps. As the adage says ‘show don’t tell’, something Stahelski is intimately familiar with. A neat example of that is when High-Table heavies invade the Japanese Continental. It is never explicitly stated in JW: Chapter 4 that they’re wearing bulletproof armour from head to toe but you quickly learn this from all the neck shots Wick performs.
The first film got things rolling when some Russian thugs kill Wick’s puppy and steal his vintage Mustang. Here, the action sequences and our introduction to Wick’s signature ‘gun-fu’ fighting style are wrapped in emotional stakes. That of recently losing his wife, then the puppy she gave him as a final gift together with the inner turmoil of returning to the life he managed to escape from.
This laid the foundation for the franchise and gave Wick some depth of character. And just as well it did because the narrative in Chapters 2, 3, and 4, is reduced to a relatively simple one- or two-line premise. Luckily, with action of this calibre, that’s enough.
JW: Chapter 4’s paper-thin story continues John Wick’s fight against the shadowy High Table, the council of crime lords that govern the underworld. Said council has called in a new villain, The Marquis de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård), to clean up the mess Wick made in the previous films and to make an example of him for defying their rules. To that end, The Marquis places a bounty on Wick’s life so he must, once again, survive against an onslaught of relentless assassins while trying to earn his freedom from the same cult that wants him dead.
That probably doesn’t sound like enough of a plot to fill the nearly three-hour runtime. It wouldn’t be for most movies but here it serves well as filler between lengthy, meticulously-crafted action sequences. If we had to look for nits to pick, JW: Chapter 4 could’ve done with less padding in some scenes. But for the most part, it manages to keep its ferocious tempo as Wick runs at or from the baddies.
Don’t underestimate a perspective shift
What makes JW: Chapter 4 stand out as the best Wick flick is the ingenuity that drips from its set pieces. The best example of this has to be when Wick enters an abandoned building pursued by dozens of armed men and a new face, the unnamed ‘Tracker’ (Shamier Anderson), along with his dog.
This is towards the end of the film, so viewers will have started to develop a sense of familiarity. We see Wick go to a place and dispatch his assailants with relative ease before moving on to the next place.
But, just as you think you’re in for another same-y fight, the ceiling seemingly vanishes and the camera shifts to adopt a top-down view for a completely different perspective, reminiscent of the Hotline Miami video game series. This simple change uses the familiarity the audience has developed which pays off tremendously as we track Wick from room to room.
We know Wick will likely emerge victorious with the bodies of his enemies in his wake. We’ve already seen his skills in marksmanship and hand-to-hand combat so there’s little need for closeup shots. The change in perspective also aids to show off the new spectacle of the Dragon’s Breath shotgun rounds that one group decided to bring along.
Tracker isn’t the only new face in John Wick: Chapter 4. Koji Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Akira (Rina Sawayama) play the Japanese counterparts to the New York Continental’s Winston (Ian McShane) and Charon (Lance Reddick). We’re also introduced to Harbinger (Clancy Brown), another High Table character.
However, they’re all mostly forgettable when compared to the imposing-yet-affable presence and demeanour that Caine (Donnie Yen) brings as John Wick’s longtime friend. As we’ve said, this is a hyperrealistic world where everyone important seems to be indestructible. So it shouldn’t be hard to accept Caine as a blind assassin who deflects bullets with his sword and still manages to shoot people when he happens to find a gun. Not only does Caine have yet more ingenuity to make up for his lack of vision, but he also dispenses a different style of violence with Yen’s preferred martial art, Wing Chun.
John Wick: Chapter 4 verdict
None of the past films in the John Wick franchise has managed to pick up any awards at the prestigious ceremonies. That isn’t about to change with John Wick: Chapter 4 – and that is perfectly okay. We don’t need award panels to tell us what this movie is or isn’t and neither does the film. It knows exactly what it is and how to play to its strengths. If you’re a fan of action movies and are able to suspend your disbelief, you’ll definitely enjoy the fourth and possibly final chapter of John Wick’s story. Just make sure you empty your tank before it starts.
John Wick: Chapter 4 opens in theatres today, 24 March 2023.