Legendary hitman John Wick continues his crusade for inner peace in John Wick: Chapter 4. Through an endless onslaught of bullets and bloodshed, John Wick has risen to phenomenon status in the action genre.
It all started from humble beginnings. The original John Wick received little buzz upon its initial announcement, with many denouncing the film as a run-of-the-mill offering destined for a straight-to-DVD release. I fondly remember going to check the film out on its opening weekend with my brother and dad. An empty auditorium greeted us upon our arrival, which seemed like an ominous omen for what could have been a forgettable experience.
Thankfully, 2014's John Wick shattered all expectations. Director/stuntman extraordinaire Chad Stahelski and star Keanu Reeves defined a unique imprint on the action genre, crafting a film bursting with innovative setpieces, awe-inspiring choreography and a sly self-awareness streak. The buzz about its brilliance quickly spread, leading to two sequels that followed a rare trend of improving upon the success of their predecessor.
Reaching new heights seemed like an impossible feat for John Wick: Chapter 4 to achieve, but the franchise climbs to an even higher elevation of artistic achievement. Simply put, this breathless and daring thrill ride conjures one of the best American action movie experiences ever filmed for the big screen.
I know this sounds hyperbolic at first glance. That said, there is no other creative team in Hollywood imbuing the amount of detail, ingenuity and intelligence that the John Wick franchise features. After sitting through so many blockbusters compromised of lifeless CGI-slug and artistically vacant motivations, John Wick: Chapter 4 and its predecessors act as a refreshing antidote to the apathetic blockbuster ailment.
Stahleski, the famed stunt coordinator behind the Matrix franchise, is the brilliant conductor composing the symphony of madcap mayhem. Each film in the franchise features pie-in-the-sky creativity in how Stahelski and his team transform action setpieces into innovative showcases of movement, sound and hard-hitting collisions. The creative team has seemingly shown us everything, from turning a pencil into a piercing weapon to filming a chaotic sword fight between swerving motorcyclists.
Somehow, John Wick: Chapter 4 dreams up even grander confrontations. Stahelski and his technical team are true mavericks in their craft, coordinating mind-blowing stunt work and fight choreography that tests the limits of human capabilities. Part of the appeal is Stahelski's ability to showcase these brawls on eye-popping canvases. He and cinematographer Dan Laustsen create evocative landscapes bursting with vibrant colors and a pulsating techno-score, bringing to life several bustling discotheques and notable French landmarks along the way.
Stahelski captures all his setpieces through his unparalleled technical verve. His camera work boasts an uncanny ability to capture chaotic moments with clarity while still finding savvy ways to infuse stylistic flourishes. Best of all, every single setpiece is composed of practical effects. I cannot praise the John Wick films enough for consistently valuing genuine craft over artificial CGI. It's one of the distinct charms that has made the franchise beloved by action fans and newcomers alike.
Another distinct trait of the franchise and Chapter 4 is the untraditional approach to the action itself. These films boast a sneaky humorous streak, possessing a zany, almost cartoon-like ability to find levity in the increasing spectacle of each encounter. The self-awareness streak is an excellent asset to the franchise, with Stahelski finding a dimension rarely acknowledged in self-serious action films.
Chapter 4 also continues the franchise's deft storytelling approach. Screenwriters Michael Finch and Shay Hatten know that filmmaking is a show, not tell, medium. Through his approach, the duo helps further build John Wick's lively universe. New additions, such as a blind assassin brilliantly portrayed by martial arts legend Donnie Yen and a tracker dedicated to Wick's legacy performed with endless charisma by Shamier Anderson, develop instant presence onscreen without needing overbaked backstory. I cannot forget the inclusion of rising star Bill Skarsgård as the villainous Marquis. His smarmy performance pairs perfectly with the sharp writing to create an antagonist audiences love to hate.
Buried beneath the bloodshed, John Wick: Chapter 4 never forgets the heart within its central protagonist. The arc of John Wick is motivated by a singular search for solace following the death of his wife. The opening frames of the original John Wick found the character trying to emotionally move forward with a puppy that represented the final gift from his partner. However, once nefarious forces mercilessly murdered his pet, he finds himself stuck on an endless roller coaster ride of bad guys and henchpeople.
Chapter 4 builds Wick's soulful throughline to a moving crescendo. The character continues to operate as a knight of pure values, fighting on behalf of honor and camaraderie as opposed to the cynical combatants chasing a quick payday from his bounty. His journey for solace is injected with enough reflective moments to make the arc stand out amidst the busy action setpieces. I appreciate the script for taking the character to an authentic place that honors him and his legacy with resonant results. Reeves also deserves ample praise for his performance as Wick. The actor mutters a seldom few lines of dialogue, yet he carries an undeniable presence that wears the years of grief and exhaustion burdening him at every step.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is a masterclass in filmmaking, setting a new standard in the genre that other films can only aspire to reach. If this is the conclusion of John Wick's story, Stahleski and Reeves should take a bow for creating a franchise that will truly stand the test of time.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is now playing in theaters.