John Wick Chapter 4 Reviewed by GREG KING
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Ian McShane, Bill Skarsgard, Shamier Anderson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Laurence Fishburne, Scott Adkins, Marko Zaror, Lance Reddick, Rina Sawayama, Clancy Brown, Natalia Tena, Aimee Kwan.
Keanu Reeves returns as the taciturn, virtually indestructible lone wolf assassin John Wick in this fourth installment in the successful franchise that has continually raised the bar in terms of staging kinetic action sequences. The 2014 original boasted some of the best stunt choreography and kinetic action sequences from a Hollywood movie, and John Wick 4 ramps the formula up to eleven.
The film opens where John Wick 3 left off, with Wick seeking revenge on the powerful High Table, the mysterious organisation that controls this underworld of lethal assassins with its rules and archaic rituals. Wick has been excommunicated by the organisation because he broke the rules and killed someone inside the hallowed walls of the Continental Hotel, a sort of safe haven for assassins in New York. The Continental has been destroyed by the High Table, and Wick finds himself on the run from a legion of assassins. He has a $10 million bounty on his head. The High Table has ensured that he has nowhere to hide, but Wick still has a couple of allies, including Winston (Ian McShane) the unflappable manager of New York’s Continental Hotel, the self-styled Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne,) and Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada), who runs the Osaka equivalent of the Continental.
The only way for Wick to find peace from the High Table is to challenge the sinister and arrogant and ambitious Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgard) to a duel outside the Basilica de Sacre-Couer in Paris. The Marquis is a high ranking member of the High Table and is obsessed with killing Wick. However, the Marquis does his best to prevent Wick from turning up to the duel by sending a legion of assassins after him. Wick is alternately helped and hindered by the blind assassin Caine (Asian action star Donnie Yen) and an unnamed mercenary known only as Nobody (Shamier Anderson) and his loyal attack dog.
The scriptwriters Shay Hatten (Army Of The Dead, etc) and Michael Finch (Predators, etc) pay fealty to the lore of the series as well as its recurring themes of honour, loyalty, death and family. Regular series director Chad Stahelski is himself a former stuntman who has worked on action films like The Hunger Games, etc, and was Reeve’s stunt double for The Matrix, so he knows a thing or two about staging bruising action. Here he ups the body count significantly with the impressive and imaginative staging of the action sequences. He also raises the bar with his carefully choreographed carnage and mayhem – the standout sequence is a free for all fight and shoot out amidst the free-flowing traffic around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the staging of which is reminiscent of the so-called “bullet ballets” of the early films from the legendary John Woo. Stahelski prefers to keep the action as realistic as possible, so the dangerous stunts were largely performed by the actors themselves without the use of green screen or special effects.
Stahelski is also a visually stylish film maker and some of the brutal, bone crunching sequences are inventively staged and offer a mix of martial arts and hand to hand combat. They are superbly lit by Oscar nominated cinematographer Dan Laustsen (who shot the previous two films in this series). The globetrotting action moves from the deserts of Morocco to the neon lit cities of Berlin, New York, Osaka in Japan and Paris, France. There is a shootout inside a dilapidated building that has been shot from above and in one take, giving the sequence the look and feel of a video game. With its violence and the kinetic staging of the key set pieces the film openly shows the influence of Asian cinema as well as the spaghetti westerns of the 60s.
This is a fairly physical role for Reeves and he acquits himself well here, absorbing plenty of punishment in the bruising fight scenes. Marko Zaror has a formidable presence as Chidi, the Marquis’ loyal henchman. McShane brings a droll urbane quality to his role as Winston. Scott Adkins is unrecognisable buried under a prosthetic fatsuit as the sadistic underworld figure and card sharp Killa. Skarsgard, who played Pennywise the killer clown in the recent remake of It, brings a suitably slimy and sleazy manner to his performance as the improbably dapper and dandyish Marquis. The film is dedicated to the late Lance Reddick who briefly reprises his role as Charon, the unflappable concierge of the Continental.
John Wick Chapter 4 is hands down the best action film of the year. Reeves and Stahelski deliver nearly three hours of beautifully choreographed mayhem and violence that will more than satisfy fans of the series and whet their appetite for a possible fifth film in the franchise. As Winston offers enigmatically at the end: “Who knows?”