Review | John Wick Chapter 4 (2023)
“You may as well forget the rest of the movie year because the best film of 2023 is here already in John Wick Chapter 4,” says Carl Roberts
There are action movies, and then there is the John Wick franchise. Ever since Keanu Reeves strapped on his guns for the first time in 2014, action fans have been in for a fantastic series of movies that feature almost non-stop action, violence, mayhem, and comedy. After a hiatus of four years, the Baba Yaga is back again. Opening this Friday is his fourth outing, John Wick Chapter 4. Reeves returns once again as our favorite dog-loving assassin alongside fellow returnees Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, and Laurence Fishburne. But can Wick conjure up another epic bullet-fuelled epic or is it time he was finally excommunicated for good?
Keanu Reeves returns in one of his signature roles in JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4, as the un-retired hitman uncovers a path to defeating The High Table – a council of twelve crime lords that governs the underworld’s most powerful organizations, and which has put a multi-million-dollar bounty on Wick’s head for his defiance. But before Wick can earn his freedom, he must face off against a new enemy with powerful alliances around the globe that turns old friends into deadly foes.
A new day is dawning in Wick’s world: new rules, new ideas, and new management, as personified by The High Table’s sadistic frontman, Marquis. But now, win or lose, Wick has a way out: challenge the Marquis to single combat. If Wick prevails, the Table will honor its word and Wick will no longer have a target on his back. Whatever the fateful outcome, John Wick knows that he left a good life behind a long time ago.
If you’re looking for almost three hours of the best action entertainment that’s ever graced the cinema screen, you’ll get it in John Wick Chapter 4. To put it simply, it is one of the best action movies ever made. And that’s no lie. From the moment the film starts, we feel we know what to expect. Trust me, you don’t know what’s coming. A visual feast for the eyes alongside some of the best action sequences committed to film lie in store. Alongside this is a terrific sense of emotion, friendliness, frustration, hope, and some brilliant unexpected laughs. Despite some small things that let it down, the film is possibly the best of the Wick franchise.
With an almost three-hour runtime, you would think that we would feel it. Not so. The time flows past so quickly, so enjoyably, and so entertainingly, that when the final credits roll, we feel like we have been on a rollercoaster ride of every emotion that has flown by. And that is no mean feat. From the very start, we are on familiar ground but don’t let that fool you. Before long, the rug is pulled firmly out from under us and we witness events and actions that we don’t see coming. And that gives the film a brilliant element of surprise.
As you would expect, Keanu Reeves once again takes center stage as John Wick. And yet again, he turns in a highly emotive performance. Just when we feel we know Wick and everything about his makeup and his character, Reeves adds yet another layer to the character. We also get to see a more philosophical Wick than we are used to. Of course, his thirst for revenge is still burning intensely, but we also get the feeling that Wick knows his time is starting to run out. That despite his desire to kill every member of The High Table, he knows deep down that his quest is beyond him. And at times, we see that he is vulnerable. Not that it matters too much.
Reeves gives his all once more, distilling Wick with a smoldering sense of charm to offset the violence in his nature. And Reeves throws himself into the action here like never before. The stunningly staged action sequences fit Reeves and his character to a tee. From the ever-present gunplay to some of the best fight scenes he has ever performed, Keanu Reeves is in his element. The violently lethal bullet-lead ballet that he performs has never been better. And once more, he makes someone we shouldn’t champion into someone we root and cheer for.
LAURENCE FISHBURNE, AND LANCE REDDICK
The other returnees do have a part to play. Laurence Fishburne as The Bowery King is always a welcome sight when he appears on the screen. He appears at the very start of the film, makes an appearance in the first third of the movie, and vanishes only to reappear at the start of the movie’s third act. But considering the film globe-trots for most of its run time, this doesn’t distract from things. Fishburne effortlessly slips back into character as The King and manages to give the audience some genuinely great laughs. We once again see that Fishburne is a superb actor, and is a vital component in the unfolding story and mythology.
The late Lance Reddick makes his penultimate appearance here as the concierge Charon. And here lies one of the film’s small faults. Over the past three movies, we have come to see Charon as a vital character, one we are happy to see every time he appears on the screen. And after playing a large part in the climax of the previous film, John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum, we expect to see him in a large role again here. Sadly, it isn’t so. Reddick here is reduced to a mere cameo appearance. And after his sad passing a week ago, we feel saddened and dismayed. Thankfully, we will get to see him as the character one final time in the spin-off movie Ballerina, which will open next year. But here, we find ourselves missing him.
Ian McShane however, has yet another vital and large part to play in the proceedings. As for Winston, if he wasn’t to appear, we would feel cheated. Thankfully, Winston becomes yet again someone who is the glue that holds the whole movie together. A presence that the film cannot do without. And the famous wit is very much in play here. We also see Winston at his most vulnerable, something we haven’t seen from the character before. And McShane makes us believe that Winston is in danger, that he could yet lose his life at the hands of The High Table. It is the mark of a superb actor to be able to pull it off, to make us fret about his fate. McShane, in a much bigger part than we have seen previously, is another constant that makes us feel right at home.
The new characters we encounter on our journey through the movie and its events are compelling in their ways. Hiroyuki Sanada as Shimazu Koji, the manager of the Osaka Continental Hotel and an old friend of John Wick, and Rina Sawayama as Akira, Koji’s daughter and concierge of the Osaka Continental make great impressions. The pairing makes the fight scenes they participate in during the film’s opening hour hugely enjoyable. The sequence itself is around twenty to twenty-five minutes in length, and both play a large part in it. Of the pairing, it is Sanada who has the more important role. His appearance as Koji is another fabulous piece of acting from the veteran. His sheer presence alone elevates the movie when he appears on the screen.
Rina Sawayama is brilliant in her role. We think she is just a concierge but once the action starts, she proves she’s anything but. At times, she is stuck hard and fast into the action in an all too brief but winning turn. Alongside one other cast member who we will get to shortly, she is one character that we hope to see make a return in either another John Wick adventure or even in her own standalone movie. The chance is there for her if the filmmakers decide to make another spinoff or two from the main franchise.
SHAMIER ANDERSON AND SCOTT ADKINS
Shamier Anderson as the Tracker / Mr. Nobody, a bounty hunter pursuing Wick, and Scott Adkins as Killa, the head of the German Table are enjoyable in their roles too. Anderson as Mr. Nobody is an enigma. On the one hand, we are hoping to see him get his just desserts, on the other, we end up rooting for him. By the climax of the film, we are in two minds about which way he will lean. Anderson excels in what could so easily have turned out to be a throwaway role but turns out to be one that we enjoy throughout. And with his canine sidekick by his side at most times we see him, he comes across as someone who, despite his career choice, actually does have a heart lurking beneath his mercenary veneer.
Scott Adkins though is just bats**t nuts as Killa. With a somewhat annoying manner and a completely annoying accent, Adkins makes what screentime he has completely worthwhile. He is slimy, and despicable, with gold teeth and everything that screams Hollywood villain from the start. He is also at the heart of some of the most ingenious humor that the film has. Killa is just a pantomime villain, all fat and greasy. But don’t let that fool you. Scott Adkins is a formidable martial artist, and just when you think it will be a simple, easy despatch for Wick, Killa shows us he is a formidable, worthwhile adversary.
BILL SKARSGARD AND CLANCY BROWN
Bill Skarsgård as the Marquis Vincent de Gramont, a powerful member of the High Table, and Clancy Brown as The Harbinger, a high-ranking operative of the High Table are the main villains of the film. Skarsgard gives the Marquis a clipped French accent, one that fits the character right down to the ground. When we first encounter him, he comes across as yet another smooth, clever villain, one that we take as being too cool for his own good. But in one deft move, he becomes someone we despise more and more as the film develops.
His mannerisms, his speech, and his antagonizing of Wick make us want to see him despatched nastily by the end credits. Skarsgard makes the Marquis one of the fiercest, evil, despicable villains we have encountered in the franchise so far. With Skarsgard’s acting ability and with the way the writers have fleshed out his character, he makes for a memorable adversary.
The legendary Clancy Brown, as The Harbinger, is almost the total opposite. In essence, he is what his name suggests, a harbinger of doom. But he is also one of the old guard, a person that has been around the business for so long, the rules are ingrained in his soul. And several times, he warns the Marquis that youth doesn’t beat experience. That he has seen people like the Marquis come and go over the years. While he is a stickler for the rules and traditions, and with a healthy dislike for the Marquis, he is also sworn to aid and protect him. Brown gives his character some needed old-school charm and charisma, making him out as a side character that we can actually dislike but can get behind during the film.
But despite all the acting prowess on display, despite Reeves’ finest work so far as Wick, not one of them can even come close to Donnie Yen. The Hong Kong martial arts legend blows everyone else in the film out of the water. As Caine, a blind High Table assassin and an old friend reluctantly turned enemy of John Wick, Yen is incredible. His motives for becoming Wick’s reluctant enemy in the film are understandable. Yen brings to Caine a sense of someone who is not unlike Wick. Both have tried to retire, both have tried to lead normal lives, only to be pulled back into the life once again. If Wick is the Ying then Caine is the Yang. They are two sides of the same coin.
In his quieter moments in the film, we feel sadness at seeing Caine having to turn on his old friends. We feel the despair he feels, and we cannot hate him at all during the events. But once he is called into action, then it is time to sit back and be amazed. Despite being blind, Caine is lethal, whether it’s with a gun, a katana blade, or even his bare hands. Donnie Yen once again gives the world a true masterclass of martial arts acting and prowess. The hotel sequence in Osaka gives us a brief glimpse of what he can do, and all we can do is marvel at him.
In his dramatic moments, Yen easily pulls it off in the acting stakes. But get him to join in the action, the battles and such and you again won’t believe your eyes. Donnie Yen fleshes out the character in ways we could never expect, and by the climax of the film, have us hoping that somehow, he will survive. Yen is the second character in the film that we are hopeful of seeing again in a spinoff or solo movie.
DIRECTION, AND THE LOOK OF THE FILM
Once again, Chad Stahelski directs the action and mayhem. And yet again, he has surpassed himself. Every scene is grandiose, with explosions of color, immaculate sets, perfect framing, and works. The neon of Osaka is breathtaking in its beauty, everything about it is astonishing. The same can be said of Paris once the storyline moves us forward to the French capital. The Eiffel Tower is framed to perfection, with an incredible eye for detail and the beauty of the city itself. Some of the CGI effects are not 100% perfect but this is a minor quibble. In the third act, we are treated to a hugely extended chase sequence through the streets of Paris. And every part of the city streets, including the Arc D’Triumph, comes alive with color, action, and framing.
That leads to something else too. The action sequences. While the Osaka hotel battle is amazing, the chase through the streets of Paris and beyond has to be experienced to be believed. Without going into too much detail, one part of the sequence involves Wick delving into his own brand of justice in a moving car. I will leave you to see what I mean by moving as you’ll know it when you see it. But not even that can scratch the surface of what has to go down as one of, if not the best single tracking shots and scenes of all time. To call it incredible wouldn’t do it justice. This single piece of filmmaking will go down in history all by itself. It is beautiful, it is incredible, and it will probably never be bettered.
The script by Shay Hatten and Michael Finch, based on characters created by Derek Kolstad does everything past and present justice. It has enough action, violence, tension, drama, emotion, heart, and humor to fill three normal movies. It expertly crafts the continuing adventures of John Wick while also tipping its hat at what has gone before it.
Every character, whether new or old is fleshed out with the same level of love, care, and respect as they deserve. Whoever has the daunting task of writing the script for a fifth film, if there is one, has an almost impossible job on their hands. Such is the quality that has been delivered here.
You may as well forget the rest of the movie year, the best film of 2023 is here already. Despite some minor quibbles and a feeling that the franchise has lost a tiny piece of luster that loses the film one star, this is what cinema was created for. This is what we pay to go to the movies for, and why streaming at home will never beat the cinematic experience.
I saw the film in IMAX and can’t emphasize it enough that the film needs to be seen on the big screen, the bigger the better. It deserves its place in theaters, it deserves to be seen, and it deserves every plaudit that will come its way. Just when you think it can’t get any better, it beats itself with something that elevates it so close to a five-star rating.
There is an after-credits stinger for you to stay in your seat for. And it opens up the possibilities of the franchise even more. As does the climax of the film itself. Once the final credits start to roll, we realize that the doors of The Continental and the John Wick franchise itself have been opened to lead to who knows where. The possibilities are now endless, and it doesn’t have to be contained within the main franchise.
Chad Stahelski and Keanu Reeves have told us that apart from the spinoff Ballerina next year, this is the last we will see of John Wick and his world theatrically for a while. They are giving him a rest for a small amount of time. After what he gets put through, and what he gives us in this fourth movie, he deserves a break. Is time up for John Wick? Maybe, maybe not. But to be honest, I’m counting down the minutes until he returns again.
Tick, Tock, Mr. Wick. Tick, Tock indeed.
John Wick Chapter 4 will be released on Friday, March 24th by Lionsgate Films.
Carl Roberts is the News Editor for The Future of the Force. Aside from being our horror genre aficionado, he is also passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the Indiana Jones movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force frequently!