Review: ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ celebrates the legacy of the world’s greatest assassin
While the fourth installment of the John Wick franchise excels in its action and visuals, the movie loses its finality with thinly-veiled attempts to set up potential future spin-offs.
As the number of new action movies keeps rising, most have become indistinguishable from one another. They often seem to blend together into a muddy soup of surface-level story beats, mediocre acting and ill-choreographed fight sequences. To some extent, this trend is understandable: The action-dependent movie genre does not offer a lot of space for innovation, forcing tropes to be recycled.
However, in 2014, director Chad Stahelski successfully breathed new life into the genre with his blockbuster hit, “John Wick.” Telling the story of a retired assassin seeking vengeance for the death of his beloved puppy and theft of his one-of-a-kind car, “John Wick” struck a chord with audiences worldwide with its innovative plot, artful portrayal of violence and impressive cinematography. “John Wick: Chapter 4” continues Keanu Reeves’ portrayal of the vengeful Wick, ending the character’s story with an epic battle spanning multiple continents and possessing heightened stakes. However, the film lacks commitment to a definitive ending at the expense of potential spin-offs with ill-developed characters.
In the years following “John Wick’s” release, the world witnessed the meteoric rise of the “John Wick” franchise at Reeves’ skillful hand. It quickly grew to encompass “John Wick: Chapter 2,” “John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum” and most recently “John Wick: Chapter 4,” which was released on March 24. With each story building on the conflict in its predecessor, Wick’s violent quest for emancipation from the High Table reaches its crux in chapter four as his fight comes to a head.
In “John Wick: Chapter 4,” Wick continues his struggle against the High Table, which is the ultimate authority in the criminal world. Wick has been deemed "excommunicado" — exiled from the league of assassins — for breaking the rules of the High Table and has a bounty on his head. Wick faces off against a leader of the High Table, the Marquis de Gramont, played by Bill Skarsgård, along with the Marquis’ enlisted help. Fighting both Caine, played by Donnie Yen, a legendary High Table assassin and Nobody, played by Shamier Anderson, a hired gunman with ambiguous motives, Wick’s adversaries in the film are daunting.
Previous “John Wick” films set high expectations for the choreography of action scenes, and “John Wick: Chapter 4” did not disappoint. Director Chad Stahelski’s eye for detail and creativity in incorporating background props into fights grips the audience with their fast pacing and brutality. His choreography particularly shines when Wick faces off against multiple assassins on the stairs of the Sacré-Cœur basilica in Paris. The stairs serve as the focal point of the action, as Wick — bloody and beaten — continues to stand his ground against an onslaught of incoming attackers, climbing the stairs with unmatched tenacity and power. Bold and dynamic, this scene is a stroke of pure brilliance.
I was also struck by how stunning the visuals are. The use of lighting and color is particularly note-worthy. Most scenes are shot with low lighting to create strong contrasts and sharp shadows, but there is also a repeated use of vivid yellows, reds, oranges, blues and greens, often in rapid flashes. This playful melange of warm and cool color hues reflects the somber yet electric tone of the entire movie.
On the other hand, the film does fall into the action-movie stereotype of disappointingly flat dialogue. During one interaction between Wick and Caine, I found myself shifting in my seat due to the sheer awkwardness of one-liners pulled straight from 1990s fighting games. Knowing both Reeves and Yen’s immense talent, I remain convinced that blame should be placed on the writers for coming up with lines so inherently cheesy that not even two acting greats can deliver.
The movie also has a tendency to exploit cultural stereotypes in its world-building and characterizations. In the Osaka Continental, the hotel owner calls upon his men to prepare to fight against the Table’s assassins. As they gear up for battle, the Osaka Continental troops arm themselves with an array of weapons, which unsurprisingly consist of katanas, nunchucks and shurikens. They are bringing a knife to a gun fight. Of course, the argument can be made that the John Wick universe is merely a fantasy world and that there should be leeway for imagination. However, far from being imaginative, the inclusion of stereotypically “Asian” weapons as part of the Osaka Continental’s artillery just seems like lazy writing, one that is symptomatic of the pervasive trend of exploitative attitudes in Hollywood.
The film’s most glaring issue is an ailment that inflicts franchise flicks too frequently: introducing too many new characters, too fast. We are led to sympathize for Akira, the Osaka Continental concierge, as she begins plotting her vendetta against Caine — her father’s murderer. However, Akira is left out of the movie as quickly as she was introduced, only returning at the end, as though an afterthought. Moreover, the introduction of Nobody’s character appears to be largely pointless. While Nobody is an intriguing character in his own right, he neither drives the plot forward nor serves as the ultimate opponent that Wick has to defeat. Rather he seems to be a distraction, one that unnecessarily overcomplicates the plot. The movie’s run time could have been better spent by delving further into the ambivalent dynamic that underscores Wick and Caine’s relationship. Regardless, both Akira and Nobody possess unique lores and the potential to deepen the Wick universe; one can only hope that the decision to briefly and insufficiently introduce them in this movie is a way to set up future projects.
It is difficult to fit a comprehensive conclusion to one of Hollywood’s most beloved action movie franchises within a time span of 2 hours and 49 minutes, but “John Wick: Chapter 4” satisfactorily does so. Although it occasionally falls short in terms of dialogue and occasionally relies on problematic tropes, the movie provides a fitting conclusion to the franchise — one that does not disrespect the lasting legacy of the first movie. The film indeed leaves some unanswered questions: What will happen to Akira, Nobody and all the other newly-introduced characters? What will the High Table do next and who will take power following the Marquis’ death? Given the growing trend of serializing franchises, I think we can assume that “John Wick: Chapter 4” will not mark the end of the Wick Universe, but will instead be elaborated on in future installments.
Perhaps, the best is still yet to come.