John Wick: Chapter 4 Review: The Most Explosive and Exhausting Installment Yet

In the original John Wick, the titular reformed assassin lost his wife to a terminal illness, as well as the puppy she left him to help grieve her loss in the opening act, igniting a path of revenge towards to people responsible for taking away the last gift his late wife gave him. In the years since that debut film, Keanu Reeves' Wick has grown entangled in the underworld of a network of hired killers, with each installment adding new layers to the mythology and director Chad Stahelski pushing the film's high-octane stunts to new heights. With John Wick: Chapter 4, Stahelski and Reeves have somehow managed to amplify the adrenaline of previous installments to dizzying new heights, with its only setback being narrative convolutions.

Wick's actions in the previous films have seen him targeted by the High Table, the rulers of this network of assassins, who have enlisted the help of Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård) to eradicate Wick once and for all. Not only does Gramont target Wick, but also targets his accomplices Winston Scott (Ian McShane), Charon (Lance Reddick), and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) in hopes of denying Wick the resources that could lead to his salvation. Additionally, Gramont also enlists the help of ruthless figures like Caine (Donnie Yen) and Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson) to take out Wick as he travels from one international locale to another, tasking Wick with finding unconventional ways to pay penance for his seeming transgressions.

The John Wick franchise had humble roots, as the first entry failed to cross $90 million at the worldwide box office. It was eventually the film's release on home video and the star power of Reeves that drew people into the series, with each entry adding even more notoriety to the narrative, resulting in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum taking in $326.7 million worldwide. 

Speaking to those more mundane roots, the debut film offered an immensely accessible entry point, made all the more engaging by Reeves' talents as a performer. Not only could we empathize with his character's situation and the amount of loss he suffered, but we were also impressed by the physicality Reeves brought to the role. Audiences weren't entirely surprised by his physical prowess, but unlike what we saw in his The Matrix films, the stunts in John Wick managed to look just as extravagant while also looking much more precise and practical. Nearly a decade later, Reeves effortlessly delivers just as engaging of a performance, managing to convey entire thoughts and exchanges with a specific glance that reflects his internal monologue. The years of sequels might have added some flair to the overall narrative path that Wick has embarked on, but Reeves has internalized all of these setbacks, making the line between his real-life persona and his on-screen assassin feel indistinguishable. 

Reeves' actions as Wick speak much more loudly than his words, instead allowing supporting characters to do the heavy lifting in the realm of exposition. Each returning figure is given a meatier role to relish in, no matter how one-dimensional their involvement in the overall story might be. Newcomer Skarsgård is relatively effective as Gramont, though the impact his antagonist has on Wick doesn't feel entirely earned, as a number of other talented performers could have been just as engaging to watch, while the role of Gramont also generally feels obligatory to this narrative as opposed to being a key component of everything Wick has faced over the years. Unsurprisingly, Yen's Caine is the standout of the film, being more interesting in the ways he slurps from a bowl than some of his scene partners, with his physical prowess only growing more confident in the decades since his debut in the martial arts genre. Anderson's Mr. Nobody also made for a welcome addition to the ensemble, and while his character might not break new ground in the franchise, merely being able to hold his own alongside some powerhouses of the action genre is a more than noteworthy accomplishment. 

Not all of the newcomers lived up to the expectations of the franchise, both in their on-screen presence and in their inclusion into the narrative. Action fans were elated with the announcements that Scott Adkins and Marko Zaror had joined the series, as they each have their own passionate followings in lower-budgeted action films, yet it felt as though neither figure got to fully display the talents that made them so compelling in the first place. It was a similar air of excitement to the confirmation that Parabellum had cast Mark Dacascos and The Raid series' Cecep Arif Rahman and Yayan Ruhian, yet that trio was given the on-screen importance to live up to their notoriety. From a narrative standpoint, Hiroyuki Sanada's Shimazu Koji and Rina Sawayama's Akira quickly established themselves as captivating characters, yet their impact on the overall storyline felt entirely too brief. With franchise expansions like the Ballerina spin-off movie and The Continental TV series already announced, some of these figures felt less like integral components of this chapter and more like a Marvel-esque opportunity to debut these characters to see how they resonated with audiences and then to allow them to return in a future project.

As Reeves' Wick grows more internal over the years, the explosiveness of the action sequences grows diametrically more massive. Rather than going from one intense sequence to another without giving audiences time to breathe, there are a handful of showstopping sequences that, on their own merit, would each become a highlight of cinematic action out of any film of the year. This is a testament to both Stahelski's skills as a filmmaker and the ways he's pushing this genre forward, showcasing familiar fighting styles in entirely inventive ways, and the ways in which Reeves and his costars make these encounters feel less like brutal combat and more like collaborative performances. One sequence that takes place at the Arc de Triomphe roundabout in Paris is sure to become a contender for the year's best action sequence, if not one of the best such scenes of the decade. Chapter 4 also showcases how martial arts films aren't the only places the director turned to for inspiration, as there's also plenty of Western-inspired sequences to be found throughout.

With each new chapter in Wick's saga, new elements of this world's mythology are uncovered to help justify a new chapter being developed. Chapter 4 has a run time that clocks in at just under three hours, making for an experience that really makes you feel that time in your seat. Despite the success of the ways in which previous chapters introduced wrinkles to Wick's journey to authentically propel him forward, the series finally feels like it's running out of steam, as the lulls between the most interesting elements of the concept drag on long enough to recognize the bizarre feeling of getting "bored" during a John Wick movie, as shocking as that is to comprehend. We understand that you can't have three hours of unrelenting action and that the breaks in such sequences help amplify the effectiveness of the high-octane encounters, but those stagnations of the narrative momentum don't equal the frenzy of the combat, regardless of how impressive they might be. 

Keanu Reeves and director Chad Stahelski have pushed themselves further and harder than ever, making for some truly jaw-dropping set pieces that will make audiences wonder where else this franchise could possibly go. The story itself, however, doesn't leave audiences with many questions, as we're largely given rehashes of story beats from previous installments, as Chapter 4 might confirm that the narrative has run out of steam before its creators. The new additions to the ensemble have also offered the opportunity to expand this franchise outside the world of Wick, which couldn't have come at a better time. While we'll never turn down the chance to see Reeves return as Wick, John Wick: Chapter 4 could close the book on the character with some of the most impressive and blood-pumping sequences that raise the bar of the entire action-movie landscape.

Rating: 4 out of 5

(Photo: Lionsgate)

John Wick: Chapter 4 lands in theaters on March 24th.