John Wick: Chapter 4
The latest in this action franchise has more action at the cost of plot and character
The stunt profession has been underappreciated for much of cinema history. Thanks to stunt-performers-turned-directors, however, action films have kicked into another gear, ever since the first John Wick (2014) film. The unlikely franchise, of a man seeking bloody revenge after the murder of his dog, is now in its fourth entry.
John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023) picks off where the last film left off, ex-hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is on the run from the organized world of assassins, after he broke sacred rules. In Chapter 4, the governing body of the assassin group, The Table, have hired the ruthless Marquis (Bill Skarsgård) to track Wick down and have him pay for his crimes. Wick must thus traverse past various evil henchmen across exotic locations to survive.
Chad Stahelski returns to the director’s chair for the fourth time with Chapter 4 and retains the action thrills and unbroken fight scenes that his previous films had. There are adjustments, as Stahelski prunes his directing skills, with the fight cinematography getting more daring and plot getting abandoned for elaborate sequences. This is a positive and a drawback. Everyone comes to see John Wick films for action, yet the lack of a coherent plot or character development leads many of these action sequences to seem instantly gratifying; delivering temporary thrills, only to be largely forgotten afterwards. Stahelski pulls off some memorable sequences, such as fight scene in a Berlin night club or a chase around the Circle de Triomphe, but Chapter 4 is straddled with long-running sequences that bring its runtime to and unnecessary 2 hrs. and 49 mins.
John Wick: Chapter 4 exhaustingly duplicates the running time of its action sequences. Characters are shot innumerable times and yet the lazy creation of “bullet-proof suits” allows for an incessant extension of violence. Fights go in and out of the same locations two or three times, to the extent that you begin to roll your eyes when you see yet another wave of henchmen arrive. This trade-off, of more fights for less story, makes for static character progression, lower stakes, and greater disinterest in the central plot.
Stahelski has been able to adjust the series into being more tongue-in-cheek; and the comedy in Chapter 4 is played up a noticeable extent. One of my main complaints of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019) was the unrealistic indestructability of the eponymous character; in Chapter 4 this is played for laughs with increasingly ridiculous escapes and beatings. However, Stahelski doesn’t fully commit to this comedy, leading to a messy tonal clash, especially in the performances, with Skarsgård playing his villain too seriously (and with a terrible French accent), while others like Donnie Yen (a new addition as the assassin Caine) seeming like blockbuster comedy relief.
In the end, John Wick: Chapter 4 delivers exactly what fans of the Wick franchise demand, more well-shot action. Chapter 4 certainly retains the beautiful cinematography of previous entries, with backdrops of neon lights, sunrises, and falling water framing the bloody action. There is also an ingenious uncut fight sequence short from a birds-eye-view that is instantly gripping. John Wick: Chapter 4 seemed to be narratively poised as a final chapter, yet the box office success already has me thinking otherwise. Chapter 4 is sagged with sometimes too much fighting and not enough story, but for fans of this franchise that is exactly what you came for.