“John Wick: Chapter 4” was directed by Chad Stahelski and written by Shay Hatten and Michael Finch. Keanu Reeves returns as the titular character on a mission to find a way out of The High Table’s clutches, leading him to new enemies and a ton of “how are you not dead?” moments.
—THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS—
Before seeing the film, I was expecting the next “The Raid 2” based on the stellar reviews calling this a “masterpiece” or “one of the best action movies ever made.” I’d say the film has some of the best action sequences ever made, but it’s definitely no masterpiece.
However, I would call the first hour a masterpiece. Everything in Osaka, from the blood-pumping battles to the breakneck pace to the surprisingly poignant emotions, was brilliant. There’s a solid 30 minutes of nothing but fight scenes and it never once got exhausting. It was straight excitement throughout. The introduction of another Continental Hotel, its manager Shimazu, (Hiroyuki Sanada), and his daughter Akira (Rina Sawayama) was a welcome one that actually tugged at my heartstrings. When Shimazu is murdered by Donnie Yen’s Caine, I was surprised to feel such genuine sorrow and sympathy for Akira. There’s a common (and necessary) theme throughout the film: when will all this end? Is John’s sole purpose to kill, no matter if he intends to or not? These questions posed to John are never more impactful than in the Osaka massacre, where Akira had rightly predicted bloodshed, pleading with her father to stay away from John because death always follows him.
Although the film never regains the momentum and investment of the first hour, it still retains the incredible action and unbelievable stunt work. The Oscars need to start awarding films like this where the stuntmen and women are risking their lives just to get a shot right. “John Wick: Chapter 4” has plenty of moments which made me wonder how on Earth the team were able to do some of these feats, especially in the heart-racing Arc de Triomphe car sequence.
Another reason why the action works so well is that it’s not just John Wick fighting. Seeing him enter the same kind of conflicts over and over again can get monotonous, so it was smart to emphasize more fights without Wick involved, especially in Osaka where there’s added weight to the characters. That being said, it’s still distracting how little John Wick actually does in this film beyond fighting. He’s surprisingly uninvolved in the plot and is more of a video game character sent on quests than anything else. He doesn’t even stop to think about what he’s doing or mourn over what he’s lost until the end of the movie. There’s not enough characterization with him.
Speaking of which, let’s move onto more of the new characters, starting with Caine. Donnie Yen is spectacular in this film. He brings such a great energy to his character and is simply fun to watch. He exudes bad-assery while still retaining humanity. Bill Skarsgård is a nice Bond villain and another solid addition to the franchise as the Marquis. Scott Adkins is also great addition as the charismatic Killa, a Kingpin-esque club owner. In fact, I loved all the new characters in this film… except for the tracker “Mr. Nobody.” The actor did a decent job with the material he was given, but that material was quite awful. He’s unintentionally written to be pathetic and irritating. He keeps demanding a higher reward for killing John Wick, as if only he could kill him, but he’s just some guy. He has a backpack and a German Shepherd. Wow, praise be. He doesn’t show any unique skills outside of tracking (although other assassins seem to find Wick just as easily) and saving John Wick from other assassins.
This leads me to a recurring issue with this film: John Wick could’ve died so many times, but plot contrivances keep him moving. There’s an obnoxious number of occasions where a villain could kill him, but instead just decides not to. For example, why didn’t Killa’s goons shoot him during the poker scene? In the same vein, John Wick never bleeds for about 97% of the film. Why? He was gushing blood in the previous three films. Blood is essential to keeping the violence grounded and stakes high.
The film also has plenty of script issues. Wick can quickly and effortlessly travel across continents offscreen despite having a multimillion dollar hit on him at all times. Not to mention he seems to have lost all his money by now. How does he afford flights, let alone make it onto them without a scratch? The film only remembers the bounty on his head when it needs to set up an action sequence. “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” is abysmal, but at least it always remembered this dilemma.
Yet my biggest gripe with the script is how it handled Wick’s death. It was the right decision to kill him off and emphasize the consequences of his endless revenge cycle, but not like that. It’s flat out embarrassing that he dies in a shootout to a blind man who, back in Osaka, couldn’t even locate and shoot him when they were right in front of each other. I understand he purposely didn’t shoot Caine so that he could save a bullet for the Marquis, but it’s still humiliating nonetheless. Also, what’s the logic here? Why bother shooting Caine? John could’ve just shot the Marquis from the start. So what if he’s executed as a result? He dies either way.
“John Wick: Chapter 4” is as good as you’ll allow it to be. Your enjoyment depends on how much you can suspend your disbelief and strictly focus on the carnage candy. Personally, I was able to roll with some of the preposterous elements due to how terrific the action was, but not all of them. There’s no excuse for that ending or any of the lazy writing. “John Wick: Chapter 4” is definitely a solid film, but it should’ve been much better.