John Wick: Chapter 4 is a hyper-violent ballet with heart and headshots in equal measure

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John Wick: Chapter 4. // Courtesy Lionsgate

It’s easy to consider the John Wick movies simply as incredible stunt extravaganzas —even I, an avowed Wick fangirl, made that mistake all the way through the release of John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum. If you go into John Wick: Chapter 4 with that mindset, you’re still going to have a great time. 

However, Chad Stahelski’s saga has always been slyly doing something more interesting and symbolic throughout its run, each time digging a little deeper into the world it’s building, questioning what kinds of people get into this life, and what it costs them.

In addition to deep respect for the genre, the movies also have a curious fascination with mythology and religious imagery as they relate to those themes that are also worth unpacking—if you’d like to dig into that, I cannot recommend Mikey Neumann’s excellent video essays on the films enough.

John Wick: Chapter 4, the final Keanu-centric entry, is the payoff for everything the series has hinted at so far. This is where the saga’s dramatic chickens come home to roost. It’s also the point where previous hinted-at influences (classical art, video games) become as overt as the ones the series has worn on its sleeves all along (Greek mythology, religious symbolism, Hong Kong action films). It’s a fitting capper to the title character’s epic arc, while also introducing promising new directions for Stahelski and company to spin off into.

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Lance Riddick in John Wick: Chapter 4. // Courtesy Lionsgate

Parabellum, with its deepening levels of consequences for John (Keanu Reeves) and everyone who agreed to help him, called to mind thoughts of Dante’s Inferno by way of gun-fu and library books to the throat.

Chapter 4 makes that comparison explicit with an opening monologue from Laurence Fishburne’s Bowery King as he recites part of the poem, including the iconic line “abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” This is John at his lowest point, still fighting his way out from the control of The High Table, the ruthless governing body that oversees the film’s world of criminals and assassins. 

John’s latest obstacle to his freedom is The Marquis (Bill Skarsgård), a preening aristocrat and High Table head who not only wants to finish off John, but destroy any seed of disunion he’s created in the established order. The Marquis hires a retired assassin, and former colleague of John’s, Caine (Donnie Yen) to carry out the contract, while John goes through the necessary steps to remove The Marquis the only official way he can: sanctioned single combat.

The new additions to John Wick’s growing criminal underworld each add unique depth to the proceedings.

Clancy Brown exudes his trademark grim reaper gravitas as the Harbinger, a role similar to Asia Kate Dillon’s Adjudicator in Parabellum. Hiroyuki Sanada and pop star Rina Sawayama bring humanity and badassery to their roles as father-daughter manager and concierge at the Osaka Continental Hotel. Scott Adkins may wear an ill-advised fat suit as German mobster Killa, but the rest of his performance is fantastically funny and appropriately over-the-top.

Yen—no surprise—is the real standout, combining complex motives and a graceful fighting style like a smart-mouthed martial arts Baryshnikov. The entire enterprise is weighted in the Wick world by the trusted, consistent excellent of Ian McShane’s Winston with Lance Reddick’s Charon—the omnipresent concierge Charon.

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John Wick: Chapter 4. // Courtesy Lionsgate

Visually, Chapter 4 is the most ambitious entry in a series known for looking incredible. Stahelski and returning Parabellum cinematographer Dan Laustsen have a sense of cheeky creative play that pays off handsomely, throwing in visual references to Lawrence of Arabia and The Warriors in two thrilling extended sequences. A later overhead oner following John, Caine and an army of goons in a crumbling Paris mansion, is both a playful nod to the films’ video game influences and an impressive technical feat all on its own. 

John Wick: Chapter 4 is exactly as satisfying as you want a John Wick movie to be. It also allows its supporting characters a little more personality and development than the films have up to this point. Granted, all that makes the film nearly three hours long, but considering its non-stop momentum, you’re hardly likely to feel that length. These movies have remained entertaining and highly intelligent the whole way through, and the finale is no different. Savor that cheeseburger, friends. There’s more to the flavor than you think.

Categories: Movies