If you’ve been reading ScreenHub for a few years or listening to the Film & Spirits podcast, you’ll know that I was very excited to John Wick: Chapter 4. It’s my third most anticipated movie of 2023. So now that this nearly three hour behemoth of an action movie is here, does it live up to the hype? Let’s find out.
The main theme of John Wick: Chapter 4 is consequence. Over the past three films, John has waged a crusade against the High Table. The act of killing Santino D’Antonio at the Continental in John Wick: Chapter 2 rendered John excommunicated and forced him to flee and collide directly with the Table. But what about all the others? Anyone who offered John help, security, or advice? We have seen some of them in Chapter 3: Parabellum, but the fourth entry really embeds this concept in the narrative theme and its characters, instead of being a plot device. John may never have considered his actions to have consequences beyond himself and some characters really give the former assassin a piece of their mind for inadvertently dragging them down the rabbit hole with him. . People are dying because of John’s actions, which paints John in a different light. He is no longer the untouchable action machine to deify, but a killer with blinkers. It’s a nice catch.
Since it’s those around John who are in the High Table’s crosshairs, it’s fitting that the many secondary characters are genuinely interesting and engaging in their own right. Ian McShane returns and continues to shine as Winston, manager of the New York Continental who left John for dead at the end of the last film. Alongside him is Charon, played by the late great Lance Reddick, who died a week before the film was released and to whom the film is dedicated. Laurence Fishburne as the Bowery King is also re-enacted in a minimal role.
But it’s a lot of new characters that really stand out. Donnie Yen’s Caine is an absolute knockout as one of the film’s antagonists. He is deeply layered and not just a one-note henchman. I found it likable, which I didn’t expect in a movie about crazy action and adversaries. Yen also delivers in spades with the action thanks to his fast-paced martial prowess, with his scenes not only elegant but creative thanks to the character’s blindness. Other stars include the ever-incredible Hiroki Sanada as Koji, Osaka Continental’s manager, Rina Samayawa as his janitor, and his daughter Akira, Shamier Anderson as a tracker often referred to as Mr. Nobody, a joker in the hunt for John and Bill Skårsgard as Marquis Vincent de Gramont, the agent acting on behalf of the Table to end Jean and what he symbolizes. Skårsgard exudes douchebaggery at the highest level, with his pompous aristocratic accent, fancy clothes and ability to manipulate those around him. Skårsgard’s jaw must be sore after chewing the landscape so much.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is the franchise’s highest-budgeted film to date and it shows. This film looks phenomenal, with cinematography and settings that sometimes remind Blade Runner 2049 Or Dunes. Everything looked grand, from castle interiors to bustling hotels or art galleries. Plus, everything is punctuated with vibrant lighting, from neon trim to vibrant LED spotlights. The camera composition and set design also complement this beautifully, from the Osaka Continental and its catwalk over a pond to on-location shots like at the Louvre. The action is filmed in wide and long shots, which gives us a clear view of what is happening. A sequence, towards the end of the film featuring the fire, deserves applause thanks to its exceptional camera work. That’s all I’ll say about it, but you’ll know what I mean when you see it. Very creative, very imaginative. The same goes for a one-on-one duel in Osaka that evokes old samurai films. Simply stunning.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is about two hours and forty minutes and it shows that length around the middle when John stops at a club in Berlin. The main jerk in this scene felt a bit cartoonish and the action, while still excellent, felt derivative of other club scenes in the franchise. Even some of the music is reused from older films in the franchise. Whether that sounds redundant or like an homage is up to you. Speaking of tributes, there’s a really great one for Walter Hill’s cult film The Warriors. If you’ve seen the movie you won’t miss this reference as it’s not subtle but otherwise it has something to do with a radio.
I mentioned how much I really love the supporting cast, but what about Keanu Reeves as the titular John Wick? Well, Keanu continues to be a force to be reckoned with thanks to his commitment to the stunt craft, but as in Parabellum, I found John not as interesting as those around him. In the first movie, he was our avatar when he rediscovered this secret world of assassins, but now what is John fighting for? The film addresses that and handles it well, but I was more engaged with Caine as a character. But those two points make for a stellar ending from a narrative standpoint. Another small detail is the Osaka footage, especially the LED room (you’ll know when you see it) was a few minutes too long. Also, some of the green screen, especially towards the end of the movie, felt flat and noticeable to me.
But these are minor complaints. This film lasts nearly three hours and is a technical marvel. Exceptional cinematography and lighting, an excellent supporting cast, and entertaining action are what this film should be remembered for. Is it the best John Wick movie? That’s up to you, but it’s definitely a contender for me.