Review: ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ (good to the last body dropped)

All in.

When John Wick (Keanu Reeves) was forced out of his quiet retirement, the assassins feared (rightfully) that “Baba Yaga” had returned. After a reactivated marker was called in for Chapter 2, Mr. Wick was forced to do what he does best but earned an excommunication. In Parabellum, John indeed prepared for war, but defying the High Table is a death sentence… if you’re lucky. Now with no options remaining, Mr. Wick dedicates himself to taking out the High Table or die trying, inadvertently creating an opening for the power-seeking Marquis de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård) to enact a scorched-earth policy toward anyone giving John safe harbor. As pointed out by Winston (Ian McShane), the desperate move also creates its own opportunity: an all-or-nothing trial-by-combat clause, winner take all. John must mend his oldest wounds before getting to the church on time, but sacrifices made along the way may break his spirit long before he’ll earn his final chance at peace.

Director Chad Stahelski takes on his fourth film in the John Wick series, having built a reality where assassins are organized like an old religion, Continental hotels are consecrated ground, and the disregarded homeless are secretly a network of spies. From minted gold coins and blood markers to swordplay and gun porn, this universe embraces Anime combat and over-the-top action sequences where everyone wears a tailored Kevlar suit. While the sequels haven’t been able to quite live up to the surprise reveals of the first film, each have raised the stakes on what audiences can experience at their local cinema. The trailers and early buzz surrounding Chapter 4 has built anticipation, but how many films will it take — or that audiences will show up to — for Baba Yaga to succeed or die trying?

Overlong, over-the-top, and inexplicably just right, Chapter 4 does the impossible, being as good as if not better than the first film that started it all. Lance Reddick’s Charon and Laurence Fishburne’s Bowery King are joined by new characters played by Clancy Brown, Donnie Yen, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rina Sawayama, Scott Adkins, and Shamier Anderson; learning who all these folks are and their connection to John is seeded into the action sequences organically and seamlessly. From clever film angles to huge sequences and gorgeous locations, the production style and combat reinvents itself throughout the film… with Skarsgård’s impeccably dressed Marquis lording over everything like a fashionista Bond villain. The usual impossibilities are there, from ridiculous falls to the stamina of a demigod, but as long as John Wick keeps getting back up, it’s nigh impossible to look away.

The original film suggested John Wick’s voluntary retirement was an anomaly, but it’s easy to imagine the High Table wants their assassins to believe that, especially in learning how many other dangerous individuals are quietly out there… and unfortunately able to be called back in at the drop of a gold coin or a mortal threat. While betrayals from popular characters tend ruffle the feathers of viewers (see Parabellum for details), watching old friends forced to become foes and work within that framework of rules is the bread and butter of Chapter 4. The most unrealistic thing is how innocent bystanders amazingly never get caught in the crossfire, which is a good thing since none of the players appear very interested in keeping bystanders safe. Still, its hard not to love the tattooed old-school switchboard operators using antiquated tech and a killer soundtrack to keep blue-collar assassins up-to-date on the latest bounties and John’s current whereabouts.

The filmmakers have said this will be enough of John Wick for now, in stark contrast to rumors a “Chapter 5” was being filmed simultaneously. It’s is a good stopping place… or a great ending, depending on what, if anything, happens afterward. Still, an after-credits scene makes one wonder where things could go — should Baba Yaga regain his focus once again; just leave the dog out of it this time, okay?

John Wick: Chapter 4 is rated R for pervasive strong violence, some language, and no pretentious subtitle this time.

Four skull recommendation out of four

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