John Wick: Chapter 4 is a lot. It runs nearly three hours, introduces multiple new characters, further indulges the series’ trademark elaborate mythology, and at one point adds a brief desert-set horseback chase in an apparent homage to Lawrence of Arabia. Yet this latest sequel to the relatively straightforward 2014 revenge action movie also seems hell-bent on proving a theory about self-indulgent blockbuster bloat: it’s not really a problem if the audience is having a good time.
Any action fans who come to feel truly alienated by the many elaborations of Chapter 4 were probably already annoyed by 2019’s Chapter 3: Parabellum, wherein our sharply (and impenetrably) dressed super-assassin Wick (Keanu Reeves) faced excommunication from the aristocratic crime barons at the so-called High Table. At the end of Parabellum, Wick decided to turn against the Table rather than kill his friend Winston (Ian McShane), and in Chapter 4, the movie retcons a way out of this eternal grudge match. Wick can challenge a powerful High Table figure (Bill Skarsgård) to a duel for his freedom, provided he first obtains the support of a prominent crime family. In other words, the story is a bunch of missions, side and main, not dissimilar to an elaborate video game. The point is to pit Keanu Reeves, arguably the last American action star standing, against a bunch of anonymous henchmen and then, eventually, more formidable opponents.
This is precisely where Chapter 4’s desire to top its predecessors becomes productive and exciting, rather than wearying. Director Chad Stahelski stages several instant-classic action ballets, like two back-to-back Paris scenes: a deadly game of real-life Frogger at the Arc de Triomphe is quickly followed by a more stripped-down challenge to make it up the steps leading to the Sacré-Coeur. The eye-popping physical ambition of these scenes will have action fans laughing in delight; some of the set pieces are so vast that they sometimes defy easy delineation. Does Wick’s prolonged escape from a Japanese hotel count as two or three separate battles, or is it one mega-sequence?
Thematically, it doesn’t really matter. By now, these movies are pretty far removed from the emotional core of the original, in which a retired widower went on a rampage because criminals killed his little dog. But Chapter 4 does manage some grace note reminders of the series’ humble origins thanks primarily to Reeves, who can say a lot with little dialogue (and, yes, a lot of ammo). He’s well-matched by Hong Kong legend Donnie Yen as blind badass Caine, a friend and reluctant pursuer of Wick who is also that rare late-stage series addition you may wish was there from the start. The film also features a now-poignant appearance from beloved character actor and Wick regular Lance Reddick, who passed away a week before the film’s release.
Reddick and Reeves will supposedly both appear in an already-shot John Wick spin-off film that will arrive next year. But Chapter 4 doesn’t exude the wheel-spinning cynicism of a forever franchise. Stahelski may traffic in excess, but at least he understands it: how choreography, performance and style can make over-the-top spectacle cohere into pleasurably overwhelming action fizz, rather than congealing into a sweaty special effects overload. He also gets that after 169 minutes, some degree of closure is appreciated. There may well be a John Wick: Chapter 5, but Chapter 4 still feels like a movie giving its all.
- Director: Chad Stahleski
- Starring: Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgård, Ian McShane
- Release date: March 24 (in UK cinemas)