Near the end of a recent press screening of “John Wick: Chapter 4,” a wave of groans and gasps swept through the audience, followed by a woman’s spontaneous cry of encouragement, “Come on, Johnny, you’ve got this!”
In fact, it does, though for a moment you have to wonder. At this point, John Wick, the not-so-retired assassin played to brooding perfection by Keanu Reeves, has spent about two hours falling from shattering heights and being thrown by fast-moving vehicles, and that’s only when he’s not around. t punch, kick, stab and shoot your way through phalanxes of armed assailants. Now, as a beleaguered video game avatar teetering towards the end of the big bang, he faces an uphill climb and a series of punches to make both Sisyphus and Wile E. Coyote growl in sympathy.
Really, the only sensible response is to laugh, not that deadly serious John Wick would be so inclined even if he could muster the energy. He’s exhausted, and “John Wick: Chapter 4,” for better and worse, is exhausting. Directed, like its three predecessors, by double-turned-filmmaker Chad Stahelski, it’s the latest and longest entry in the saga (169 minutes), and while you can expect future chapters and offshoots, this one comes with the self-admirable grandeur of a final statement. .
Just five minutes later, Stahelski and editor Nathan Orloff cheekily reference one of the most famous cuts in movie history, a mischievous mix of Laurence Fishburne and “Lawrence of Arabia.” This is John Wick globalized; is “The wick ultimatum”. Leaping from sun-scorched Moroccan deserts to neon-lit Japanese courtyards to rain-soaked open-air German nightclubs, the film unleashes all hell in grand globetrotting style. Even by the series’ standards, it’s an astonishingly staged and sustained panorama of violence, largely mediated (and tempered) by the usual inventive weaponry and bulletproof menswear, and delivered by international action stars like Donnie Yen and Hiroyuki Sanada.
As nice as it is, all this maximalist spectacularity may seem antithetical to the elegant and ingenious economy of the first film. A modestly scaled hit from 2014, the original “John Wick” was based on an ingeniously simple premise—a former hitman dueling against the Russian mobsters who murdered his dog—and moved with melancholy finesse from a beautifully staged action sequence. to the next. But while it worked very well as a standalone revenge film, it also ushered us into an underworld of assassins so densely and elegantly imagined that future visits seemed inevitable.
And so they were. I don’t remember much of what happened in “John Wick: Chapter 2” and “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum”, and I don’t have time right now to catch up on Wickipedia. But amid all the arcana and gun deals, the enemies and the excommunications, the series had some key sustaining constants. There was Reeves, of course, a perfect assassin for a grimly imperfect world. There was also the gleaming precision of Stahelski’s cinema, rooted in the old-fashioned belief that the camera should relish, rather than compete with, the spectacle of violently moving bodies.
Fortunately, that belief is more than confirmed in “Chapter 4,” whose commitment to compositional elegance (courtesy of cinematographer Dan Laustsen) is as inviolable as a murderer’s blood oath. Given the inscrutably murky digital riots that go through so many Hollywood action movies these days, a fight scene where you can actually see what the hell is going on is not something you should take for granted.
It can also justify a lot — not all, but a lot — of the bizarre world-building nonsense in Shay Hatten and Michael Finch’s script. As the saga begins anew, Wick has declared war on the High Table, which is not a club for standing desk enthusiasts, but an all-powerful, elite council of assassins. Wick’s actions draw the ire of the Marquis (Bill Skarsgard), the inexperienced and sadistic leader of the Bureau who, like a Rick Steves guide in a three-piece suit, prefers to conduct business in front of the most famous sights in Paris.
The Marquis has powerful weapons at his disposal, none more formidable than Caine (Yen), a latter-day Zatoichi who, with the help of a sword, a Kevlar suit, and some hilariously deployed motion sensors, turns his lack of vision in a lethal attack. attribute. A figure of spidery elegance, Caine is, like Wick, a reluctant assassin, forced to serve against his will and his better judgement. That puts him in direct conflict with Shimazu (Sanada, touching as always), Wick’s unfailingly loyal ally, owner of the glittering Osaka branch of Continental, that chain of luxury hotels where assassins are welcome, but murder itself. itself is just as prohibited as a dress code violation. .
Needless to say, that rule is about to be thrown out the window, along with several efficiently dispatched corpses. Hidden in the shadows of all this chaos is a cunning-eyed tracker (Shamier Anderson) whose loyalty would be more of a mystery if he didn’t come equipped with a trusty Belgian Malinois. Whether cuddly, deadly, or both, canine companions continue to hold a privileged place of honor, commanded by a loyalty more powerful than all the codes and bounties in the Wickiverse. You know a murderer is redeemable if he has a dog or, in Shimazu’s case, a daughter (Rina Sawayama), whom he has raised to be as deadly as his many enemies will no doubt come.
The meticulous foreshadowing of future conflict feels appropriate for a world built, destroyed, and rebuilt by endless cycles of murder; Conveniently, it also sets the stage for future “John Wick” spin-offs. If one does materialize, I expect it to be as brilliant as this one, if also a bit more disciplined. There are moments when the overwhelming virtuosity of “Chapter 4” sizzles and stops, when its bewitching beauty takes an unproductive and ponderous turn. Tellingly, one of the first highlights of the action finds Wick and Caine fighting a battle of wits and senses (and swords and nunchaku) against an elaborate display of Japanese paintings. Look, the film says, and see how the destruction of an art gallery can become a work of art itself.
That self-esteem is justifiable, though only up to a point. After a while, I lost count of how many scenes took place in chambers and grottoes lit, almost oppressively, by candlelight. (The effect is creepy, though not nearly as scary as the wax quote.) I also lost count of the other baddies the movie tries to throw into the mix, including a fat-suited Scott Adkins as an especially hard-to-kill card. At this point, minor villains can only be a nuisance. Better to keep them as anonymous as the various thugs Wick defeats in the film’s deliriously drawn-out Paris climax, be it during a god-stunning, eye-popping tracking shot, with ferocious carnage spilling from room to room, or an Arc Triomphe scale that brings new meaning to the term “hit and run”.
Through it all, Reeves somehow cuts through the picture with equal parts unbridled strength and zen cool. Since he never outshone his fellow actors, he manages, like few movie stars, to attract and divert the camera’s attention. Wick’s gun-fu is unmatched, his stamina herculean, his exhaustion palpable. But through circumstances no one could have foreseen, the film’s strongest emotion does not belong to him. Understandably, that honor goes to Lance Reddick, who here makes his fourth and final appearance as Charon, the faithful Manhattan concierge and trusted ally of Wick’s old partner Winston (the invaluable Ian McShane).
Reddick died last week at the age of 60, a tragedy that inevitably casts a shadow over his impeccably serious performance and the film as a whole. For the most part, Charon, whose name had never felt more grimly appropriate, stood at an elegant, watchful distance from the violence of Wick’s world; he was a fixer and a facilitator, not a participant. But Reddick, with his completely dry wit and eyes that seemed to miss nothing, never seemed indifferent or in control; he could give even cold efficiency a human pulse. In a series of movies that so beautifully and brutally trafficked in death, here was an actor drenching the image with life.
‘John Wick: Chapter 4’
Classification: R, for general strong violence and some language
Execution time: 2 hours, 49 minutes
Playing: Starts March 24 in general release