John Wick: Chapter 4


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

John Wick: Chapter 4
"I can't really fault the action sequences. I can take issue with just about everything else."

In retrospect, as with Die Hard, Iron Man, and The Fast And The Furious, it seems inevitable that John Wick would not only spawn a franchise but scores of imitators. They also all suffer from sequels that stretch across ever greater sets of time, space and budget, with diminishing returns. In that sense then it also seems that the fate of John Wick was written from the beginning, even if it's also clear that it's being made up as we go along.

Chad Stahelski returns as director. He's joined by writers Shay Hatten and Michael Finch. The former penned previous sequel (and the sole subtitled entry) Chapter 3 - Parabellum as well as a handful of Netflix movies including John Wick/I Am Legend-a-like Day Shift and "Zack Snyder's" Army Of The Dead (and its prequel). The latter the genuinely thrilling Predators, then among others a second attempt at adapting videogame Hitman to film and American Assassin, a picture perhaps most notable for having a trailer that made it clear that the thing its protagonist would be training for much of the movie to stop happened anyway. Stahelski was a stunt performer and additional unit director for years, doubling for Keanu Reeves on a number of occasions before helming Wick and its sequels. He's attached to a whole stack of projects in development, including videogame adaptations and at least one attempt to reboot another franchise.

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I can't really fault the action sequences. I can take issue with just about everything else. I counted some 16 fights, but that count doesn't differentiate between extended conflicts that evolve within individual settings or the minibosses that sometimes feature. That's another videogame term, and there's plenty of scope for those. One features a 'return to start' and another resembles a trigger-happy Frogger or Crossy Road. One of the musical acts on the soundtrack (repeatedly so) are La Castle Vania, taking their name from yet another game. Developing further from the franchises dependence on armoured suits (or at least bulletproof tailoring) the notion of a "Metroidvania" becomes useful. That's a game where acquiring items makes previously inaccessible areas available, with new challenges therein.

From the beginning, when Lawrence Fishburn's Bowery King delivers some laundry and some exposition to our protagonist, that sense persists. There's an untorn ticket, a seal, an item recovered from a mid-level threat, and on and on. Clancy Brown turns up as a Harbinger, another addition to the fooferaw of High Tables and clumsy cod-Latin. One assumes the alligator-skin case was custom-made for the literal hour-glass it conceals, but that makes the fact that it seems to be transported horizontally all the more puzzling. Lance Reddick is done several dis-services, not least having his name pronounced Cha-Ron like a cocktail of tea and brown-sugar-spirit. Ian McShane is clearly enjoying being as smooth as a paycheque supplemented by Laphroig product placement requires, while Bill Skarsgård appears to be enjoying the woody notes of most of the scenery. Marko Zaror as henchman Chidi joins Shamier Anderson (Tracker) as ongoing complicating factors. Elsewhere, and only slightly less obviously named Donnie Yen joins as Caine.

He may be a blind swordsman, but he's differently able than Zatoichi. He's joined by Hiroyuki Sanada as another figure from Wick's past, audiences may have most recently seen him in Bullet Train but he's worked with Reeves before in 47 Ronin. Among multitudinous references is that his character's daughter is called Akira, he played a character called Kaneda in Sunshine. Further upping the roster of rogues is Scott Adkins, donning a fat suit to play gold-toothed German gangster Killa. Channeling Colin Farrell as The Batman's Penguin, it's one of several roles that seems to exist in part to allow slightly disappointing jokes. There are multiple references to emotional support animals, one of whom urinates with an accuracy that adds insult to injury.

When it's not delivering comic relief, there's expository sketchbooks, and also from the improbably psychobilly telephonists that administer the criminal underworld's switchboards clad in polka-dot headscarfs and tattoo sleeves. There's another newer source too, a radio-station that recalls Cleavon Little's turn as Super Soul in Vanishing Point. Wick drives a 1971 Dodge Barracuda rather than a Challenger, the station also has a name-change. That radio station was named Kowalski, in honour of the last American hero to whom speed means freedom of the soul. Here it's W-U-X-I-A, indicating that (perhaps unsurprisingly) the FCC recognises the Eiffel Tower as being East of the Mississippi and if you're referencing enough genres you can get extra letters. That's usually what I hope for from my editors.

If I've counted right, I've now said John Wick or some variant thereof seven times. I didn't even try to count how many times he killed someone, just how many times his name appears, including in text messages, in braille, and as various diminutives and with a variety of honorifics. If I'm mostly right, it averages about once every two and a quarter minutes. You could maybe make it part of a drinking game, but you'd die. Not as quickly as those being dispatched on screen, but as surely as I'll use those words again.

There are dozens of different weapons used, many in unlikely ways. Improvised weapons too, including homages to both The Dark Knight's Joker and magician Ricky Jay. Cards feature heavily, there's a poker game that amazingly uses five-card draw rather than the almost ubiquitous Texas Hold'em and does so for character reasons. There's also a special deck that features portentous slabs of painted metal in what feels like a mini-game in a loading screen or match-making lobby. There's a huge amount of hand-to-hand, including some mixed martial arts and a few moments of what feels like sports entertainment wrasslin', over-sold clotheslines and all. MMA and WWE and MMOs are all part of a festival of relevant TLAs, and it's clearly an indication of the sway the underworld holds that neither alphabet agencies nor street level policiers seems to have anything to say about various cities becoming warzones.

Among numerous references is Gericault's Le Radeau de la Méduse, not just part of a very long walk for one measured in paces but also apparently an indicator that the baddies have enough sway to use the Louvre's long galleries as an espresso bar. One sequence is soundtracked by Justice's Genesis, appropriate for two of the locations because the French duo sampled (among others) a Gojira theme. Elsewhere there are nods with guitar and harmonica to more Western traditions. This is evident in some of the sequences, mashed-up with things like High Plains Drift-Racers and the Wilhelm Scream. A metro station (Porte des Lislas) is variously a film reference, for its eponymous picture but also that it serves as a limbo for a character played by Reeves. A boat named Hortense might be for Donald Duck's mum but could just mean 'gardener'.

In extensive credits that you'll have to sit through for an important scene at the end you'll see some hundred stunt performers and easily as many computer graphic artists across dozens of effects houses. When every shot fired is a product of pixels things like Caine's eyes or Wick's missing finger are almost by-products of production requirements. At times these fall short of realism, as while one can forgive uncertainties in the folds of ballistic armour it's easy to get have ones disbelief unsuspended by irregularities in the falls of ballistic actors.

In much the same way that Mad Max: Fury Road is a film with a car chase, Chapter 4 is a film with a gunfight. That you'd have 39 minutes to spare between their finishes speaks to relative inefficiencies. The subtitle of the third film, Parabellum, means, more or less, "prepare for war". This is even within the muddy mythology of the franchise more of Ares than Hercules. Theseus himself could follow proceedings without a clue, and I say that despite being annoyed that threads created in previous entries appear to have been left untied. At almost three hours it's not so much John Wick as the whole bloody candle. It may have been guttering for a while, but en masse (and at Mass) it becomes oppressive and dim, fading not because it's run out of fuel but because it's deprived itself of breathing room. Far from going out with a bang it is extinguished with a lack of spark.

Reviewed on: 24 Mar 2023
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John Wick: Chapter 4 packshot
Wick faces a new foe.
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Director: Chad Stahelski

Writer: Shay Hatten, Michael Finch, Derek Kolstad

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, George Georgiou, Lance Reddick, Clancy Brown

Year: 2023

Runtime: 169 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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