Nothing should really surprise you about the John Wick franchise by now. From the very beginning, it has been about one thing and one thing only – watching John Wick do what he does best, which is go around killing people. A LOT of people.
What started out as a small action movie directed by stunt directors and starring Keanu Reeves as a retired hitman seeking revenge on the men who killed his pet dog, has grown into one of the most acclaimed action franchises of all time.
The first three movies were odes to just how good action movies can be when they are allowed to just focus on that – the action. The long-take fight sequences, the inventive ways in which Wick dispatches his enemies, the ruthlessness of all his kills, and the mysterious, rule-driven underworld of the assassins... this has been the main draw of the John Wick movies from day one.
With this, the fourth and supposedly final movie of the franchise, it's all about tying up loose ends and finally giving Wick the send off he deserves. And boy does he get one heck of a explosive farewell.
After the events of the last movie (John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum), John has been marked as ‘excommunicado’ and marked for death by the High Table, the top tier of the criminal organisation he used to be part of.
Looking for ways to break free of its clutches and finally stop having to look over his shoulder at all times, he decides to take matters into his own hands, with the help of The Continental hotel manager Winston (Ian McShane) and his concierge Charon (Lance Reddick), and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne).
But the Table has also appointed the ambitious Marquis Vincent De Gramont (a deliciously despicable Bill Skarsgard) as its judge, jury and executioner when it comes to all matters Wick. Joining the Marquis in the hunt is Caine (Donnie Yen), a blind but formidable assassin who serves the Table but also has his own agenda for hunting Wick.
It says a lot about Chapter 4 that I immediately wanted to watch it again as soon as the credits started rolling. It is an exhilarating, exciting ride from start to finish that somehow manages to keep you enthralled throughout the relentlessly fast-paced action sequences.
At almost three hours long, you really get your money's worth of action here, as Wick travels the world, jetting from New York to Paris via stops in Osaka and Berlin, with a seemingly endless string of fistfights, shootouts, and car chases every step of the way.
Fortunately, Stahelski is a master of choreographing the action set-pieces in a way that feels different each time. From a top-down view of Wick navigating an apartment while picking off enemies with a modified flame-throwing shotgun, to a frenetic fight scene amidst the busy traffic of the Arc de Triomphe, each sequence is different enough that it never feels repetitive.
Besides, if you get tired of Reeves shooting yet another nameless assassin in the head, there's always Donnie Yen –and the other two martial arts superstars in the film, Scott Adkins and Hiroyuki Sanada – to break the monotony.
Speaking of which, how do you make one of the most enjoyable action franchises of all time even better? Just add Donnie Yen. And not just as lame filler one-off 'final boss', but as an actual equal to Wick himself. After all, It's no secret that Yen is one of the best out there when it comes to action movies, so he fits right into the John Wick universe.
It would be easy, lazy even, to say that Yen is rehashing his Rogue One: A Star Wars Story blind monk character Chirrut Imwe, but Caine is so much more than that.
Looking effortlessly cool in his sharp suit and dark glasses, Caine could well go down as one of Yen's most iconic and memorable characters in his long, illustrious career. Ruthlessly efficient and mercilessly clinical, Yen plays him with the calm and wisdom of Ip Man, but with a world-weariness that defines his every movement and every decision.
Heck, Caine's role here is so outstanding that he probably deserves a spin-off for himself (for the record, there are two spin-offs lined up for the franchise – the Ana De Armas-starring The Ballerina film, and The Continental TV series, based on the chain of hotels frequented by the Table's assassins.)
Is Chapter 4 gratuitiously violent? Undeniably so. But that's the whole point of this – action for action's sake, over-the-top, brutal violence with no thought of consequences beyond the life and death of the characters. You don’t go to a John Wick movie looking for a good story, or emotional drama – you’re there to watch Wick kill as many people as he can in as many different ways possible. (Hey, it’s rated 18 here for a reason).
That, ultimately, is what we're looking for in a John Wick movie, and Chapter Four delivers all that, and more.
In tribute to Reddick, who sadly passed away last week, I shall end this with a quote by Charon that sums up Chapter 4 perfectly: "It has been a pleasure, Mr Wick. Goodbye."
An excitingly exhilarating action epic.