John Wick Chapter 4 makes it hard to believe this franchise once started with a modest, well-tailored revenge flick. Since then, the series has added more brawn and balls to each entry, all in the commendable hopes of giving you more Wick for your ticket. Now, part four delivers a full-blown epic, a frenzied fever dream that deliriously crams several movies into the busted seams of this three-hour juggernaut. Yes, it’s completely goofy and belligerently unrealistic, but it’s unabashed on both fronts: It doesn’t care that you care about those kinds of things. John Wick 4 is a visceral masterwork, designed purely to overload your senses for as long as you’ll allow.
Fair warning: Both the film and this review will be confounding if you have seen the other Wick flicks. Each film doesn’t end so much as take a deep breath for the next one. (That’s my cute way of spoilers are a-coming! 😘) Chapter 4 finds John Wick (Keanu Reeves) still trying to wriggle away from the High Table by killing his way up its hierarchy. We begin with a horseback chase in the Moroccan desert. (Yes, you read that right.) Wick corners and kills the Elder (George Georgiou), who sits above the Table. Whatever that means. This puts the Table’s collective panties in a bunch, and they up the bounty on Wick’s head.
Wick’s badassery specifically draws the heat of the Marquis (Bill Skarsgård), an ambitious young member of the Table. Icy and psychotic, the Marquis realizes that killing Wick will help him rise within the organization. That means he’ll take the fight to the few people Wick has left to care about: Winston (Ian McShane), the hotelier who has become a key ally and protector; Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada), another hotelier and father figure; finally, Charon (Lance Reddick), the concierge of Winston’s hotel. Jeez, take hitman hotels out of John Wick’s life and he wouldn’t anybody, would he?
Parte Quarte also injects a few new characters, mainly because Wick has wiped out just about everybody else in the first three movies. These include: Caine (Donnie Yen), a blind assassin tasked with killing his old buddy Wick; Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson), a bounty hunter whose motives for tracking Wick seem a little vague; Harkan (Scott Adkins) a husky mafioso whose scuzzy, outsized personality seems plucked from a Grand Theft Auto cutscene. These rogues add seasoning to what would otherwise be a fairly bland plot.
That said, you ain’t watching this Wick flick for the plot. Most of the script in any of these movies is just window dressing for the action scenes, and Chapter 4 serves up a few doozies. Director Chad Stahelski delivers the burly brawls and shootouts the franchise is known for, but with even fancier camerawork and CGI. The film’s massive budget means those bloodbaths move to exotic locales, such as Osaka, Berlin, and Paris. (With fight scenes on the Rue Foyatier and in front of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, the film devotes a particular love letter to Paris.)
Two of those fight scenes will get most of the attention, and justifiably so: The first is a dizzying, frenetic set piece in front of the Arc de Triomphe (again, we’re loving on Paris). It’s a self-contained masterpiece of editing and choreography, and should net the film an Oscar for the former. The second is an extended, overhead gunfight, in which Wick obliterates bad guys with a grenade/flame gun out of the Doom franchise. God only knows how long went into the filming of this sequence, but the result is truly jaw-dropping. It’s remarkable for a movie this long, in a franchise this deep, that John Wick 4 still manages moments of adrenaline-soaked brilliance.
As for acting, the performances are exactly what they need to be. Keanu’s Wick is essentially a variation on The Man with No Name: He speaks through his pistols and fists. In fact, the less dialogue the better. When there must be words, Keanu filters them through a low, slow growl, as if he’s pissed to even spell it out for you. John Wick is less a three-dimensional character than a walking, talking instrument of death–think half Jason Bourne, half Grim Reaper. On that front, Keanu’s the man for the job.
In addition to Ted “Theodore” Logan, the other key roles in the film are filled by Skarsgård and Yen. The former is the best kind of movie villain: Frosty, urbane, and psychotic–the only thing missing is a Gestapo uniform. Meanwhile, Yen’s Caine is the anti-hero caught between Wick and the Marquis. Yen is so good within the emotional and physical needs of the role, I wouldn’t mind a spinoff.
Some people will scoff that the John Wick movies are totally unbelievable. Of course they are! That’s half the fun. Wick is the most indestructible character this side of Wile E. Coyote: He gets shot, stabbed, and dropped off tall buildings. You could play a drinking game for every time he gets hit by a car. This is a cinematic universe of Itchy and Scratchy physics, and you just have to embrace it.
In fact, that goes for everything about this movie. This is unhinged silliness, and the filmmakers know it. (How else can you explain a movie that quotes Lawrence of Arabia and The Warriors so heavily?) If you can’t vibe into its weird and wild ambitious, then I’m afraid the loss is yours. John Wick is a franchise that seems to get better as it goes along.
169 min. R. In theaters and On Demand.