'John Wick: Chapter 4' Review
March 15, 2023
In a move that will surely make it Michael Haneke’s least favorite movie of all time, John Wick: Chapter 4 is a glorious showcase of violence. Not since the days of gladiators (and I’m not talking about Russell Crowe) has mankind’s bloodlust been so voraciously quenched. Does the collective laughter and applause from my audience at the sight of bad guys having their testicles ripped apart, limbs severed, or cranium detached by a bullet make them bad people? Maybe. But this isn’t the movie (or franchise) for that sort of question. It’s best to follow the advice Winston gives to John Wick before he resumes his rampage: “Just have fun out there.”
John Wick is back for his fourth chapter, whom at this point has become a far cry from his humble beginnings in 2014 when he was just a man getting revenge for his dead dog. A novelization’s worth of lore has been built up since then, with people carrying lofty titles like The Bowery King, The Director, and The Adjudicator, and societies like The High Table becoming a part of this world on top of our world. You may ask yourself how John Wick can rack up more bodies in one day than the US military does in a year, all without ever running into the police or government agencies. But then again, that angle has been done way too many times in other lame action movies, so it’s nice to be invited into something unfamiliar, even if the seriousness it handles itself with often comes across as self-parody.
That tongue-in-cheek playfulness, whether intentional or not, most clearly comes across in Keanu Reeves’ performance. His stilted dialogue and inability to say more than two lines at a time do break the grand illusion instilled by cinematographer Dan Lausten’s exquisite framing and lighting, but that’s also par for the course for Reeves at this point in his career, which has risen to meteoric levels within this digital age for just that reason. That ironic sense of charisma works well with the theatricality supplied by the supporting cast, featuring the great Donnie Yen and Hiroyuki Sanada, and the operatic scale of the narrative.
Just as James Cameron continually revolutionizes visual effects and puts most of his contemporaries to shame, Chad Stahelski does the same for action set pieces, at least within the confines of the Hollywood studio system (Hong Kong and other Asian countries deserve some respect). With a nearly three-hour runtime, your dollars spent on tickets will be stretched to their max potential, with sequences going for multiple film reels, pushing the envelope on the physical toll an actor/character can take. The neon lights engulf everything in bright colors, and the camera stays back and moves with fluidity. There’s a specific set piece reminiscent of Minority Report, with Stahelski holding onto a single take for minutes on end. It’s pure, unadulterated adrenaline, delivered in hefty doses.
The cinematic nods don’t stop there, with an ode to Lawrence of Arabia serving as the show-stopping introduction. The luxuriousness of that initial setting is extended throughout, with the hottest tourist spots of Paris, including the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, and Arc de Triomphe acting as backdrops.
Although I said the character of John Wick has drastically changed over time, the John Wick series has maintained that underdog energy since its initial entry, even though the budgets have increased nearly sixfold. Each sequel tries its hardest to outdo the previous one, offering an improvement on what’s already been done and creating something entirely new. Although I know it will be done, I don't know how they’re going to top this in John Wick: Chapter 5.