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Review: John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)

John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)

Directed by: Chad Stahelski

Premise: John Wick (Keanu Reeves) hunts the leadership of the Table, the organization that oversees the assassination industry. In response, The Table empowers The Marquis (Bill Skarsgård) to stop Wick.

What Works: The John Wick series is primarily an exercise in spectacle and at that the filmmakers have excelled with the set pieces of each installment outdoing the previous one in scope, complexity, and ambition. Each film has its own look with a distinct color palette and a unique visual style which differentiate the ever-present gunplay of each installment. John Wick: Chapter 4 is an interesting compromise between the more colorful second and third films and the darker and grittier original film. That’s fitting because Chapter 4, which is positioned as the final installment of the series, returns to some of the pathos appeals of the first picture. The original John Wick was about a retired hitman relapsing into a life of violence that he had previously rejected. This ethical and existential element was largely ignored in the second and third films but the problem returns in John Wick 4 with the character searching for a way out. As a result, the story has a dramatic shape and the violence has meaning beyond itself, all of which raise the stakes. The set pieces figuratively visualize Wick’s struggle to find a way out, especially a staircase shootout toward the end of the picture, and Wick is pursued by other assassins, played by Donnie Yen and Shamier Anderson, who have to make ethical calculations of their own. The attention to character gives John Wick 4 a sense of drama that makes it more than a shootout. But the filmmakers don’t lose sight of the violent thrills that draw viewers to this series and John Wick 4 has the showmanship and fun that makes these films appealing. That’s especially evident in the last forty minutes in which John Wick 4 becomes an extended homage to 1979’s The Warriors. The mix of human drama and spectacle makes this a satisfying and appropriate conclusion to the John Wick story.

What Doesn’t: If John Wick 4 suffers from anything, it is the sense of familiarity. This is the fourth film in which the titular assassin shoots his way through hoards of anonymous henchmen. Unlike some of the other sequels, the set pieces of John Wick 4 have a dramatic shape; he’s fighting his way toward something and has a complicated relationship with his chief opponents. However, the action of John Wick 4 mostly consists of the character shooting people in the head; the kills lack the inventiveness seen in the second and third pictures.

Bottom Line: John Wick: Chapter 4 brings this story to a close with style and pathos. It is extraordinary action filmmaking that also possesses intellectual and emotional payoffs. This film sits alongside Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The Bourne Ultimatum and 2008’s Rambo among the great concluding chapters to an action movie series. Hopefully the John Wick filmmakers learned from those pictures and leave well enough alone.

Episode: #948 (April 2, 2023)