With the release of John Wick: Chapter 4, director Chad Stahelski and Keanu Reeves have effectively perfected the art of the modern action film. This sequel sees John Wick on a quest to take down the High Table and earn his freedom, facing off against a powerful enemy while encountering old friends and new foes.
Renowned for its incredible stunts and non-stop action sequences, the John Wick franchise has found a way to one-up itself with every sequel – and this one is no exception. This is a sensory overload of the best kind. The action is absolutely unrelenting – one action sequence rolls right into the next seamlessly and continuously across the entire 2-hour and 50-minute runtime. Just when you think a sequence has run its course and and there can’t possibly be more nameless bodies to plunge bullets into, more forces appear to increase the already extremely high kill count. A couple of action set-pieces are stretched so long that you feel as exhausted as Keanu Reeves would have been while filming – a clear creative choice that is very well executed.
One thing I’ve always loved about John Wick’s action sequences is that there’s never the feeling of “oh I’ve seen that”. Every single action set-piece feels unique and original due to the weapons being used, the way it’s shot or the location of the fight… or all three. In this film specifically, the locations of the various action sequences play a huge role in the mesmerising fight choreography. There’s a sequence that takes place in the middle of a busy road which is total chaos, while there’s another on a huge staircase where the choreography is clearly orchestrated around that location choice. In terms of the way they’re shot, there’s one sequence that stands out the most due to being filmed in a top-down manner akin to the Hotline Miami video game. What I love most about the huge variety in the action sequences is that I honestly can’t pick a favourite. I loved every single one and they all surprised me in creative ways – something I credit to Chad Stahelski’s genius.
Speaking of Chad Stahelski – having such a well-experienced stuntman directing this film has its very clear benefits. The stunt work across the entire franchise, not only in this sequel, is bar none the best I’ve ever seen in an action film. The brain of Chad behind the inception of the stunts is one thing, but Keanu Reeves doing most, if not all, of the stunts himself adds to the realism and authenticity of the film. His dedication to the art is one of his finest qualities as an actor and a person, and his efforts don’t go unnoticed.
The whole idea of ‘John Wick‘ may have been birthed from a very simple and straightforward revenge story, but the world building that has been peppered into the sequels has led to a very deep narrative with layers that now extend to TV and movie spin-offs. With each passing film we have uncovered more and more about how the underground organisations of this world operate, all culminating in this sprawling narrative that spans around the globe. The story in this entry is easy to follow and gripping the entire way through. The introduction of Bill Skarsgård’s Marquis as a villain with all the power of The High Table at his disposal poses a worthy threat to the multi-faceted talents of John Wick. This sends Wick on a path that puts his abilities and alliances to the test, but it’s not just his journey that is engaging.
Along the way Wick encounters Caine, an old acquaintance played by Donnie Yen. As much as this is Wick’s journey, there’s elements of Caine’s story weaved into the film to the point where I was also invested in that character. There’s even other characters in here who I’d love to see receive some sort of spin-off exploring their journey. The long runtime really gave the narrative room to breathe, with ample time to flesh out the supporting characters that give the story its depth.
Performance-wise, no one is touching what Keanu Reeves brings to this film. As I mentioned above, his dedication to the craft and his incredible ability to bring the action sequences to life is exceptional. By design, Keanu doesn’t say a lot in this film – most of the time his lines are limited to less than a few words, but the impact of those words makes it feel like he’s just given a powerful monologue. I don’t think there’s another actor who can evoke so much meaning and grit out of just saying the word “yeah”. Once again, I love what Laurence Fishburne (Bowery King), Ian McShane (Winston) and the late Lance Reddick (Charon) add to the film and the universe, nailing their characters to perfection. Newcomer Donnie Yen is incredible – he brings this unique charm to his dialogue scenes that only he can, and he kicks ass in terms of the action.
I also need to highlight both Shamier Anderson (Tracker) and Rina Sawayama (Akira), two impressively strong performances and two characters who I loved following from the get-go. On the other end of the spectrum, the one character who crossed the line in terms of being too cheesy and ridiculous is Scott Adkins‘ Killa. I sort of get what they were going for with his character, but it didn’t really work for me. It was tonally out of whack, putting me in a weird position where I wasn’t sure whether I should be fearing this guy or he’s just a big joke.
Speaking of cheesy, there’s a slight hint of the ridiculous in this film – the action goes to some extreme lengths to where yes, in reality, these people (and John Wick) would all be long dead. But the whole point of this film is to craft an entertaining action spectacle, and you can’t do that to the extremity that Chad Stahelski is aiming for without cutting some corners. Will a kevlar suit jacket or helmet absorb any and all pain from a clip of bullets? No, but for the sake of entertainment, it has to. There’s a brilliant moment late in the film where the comedic timing was orchestrated to perfection. It’s over the top in the moment, but it’s weaved into the action sequence in an awesome and satisfying manner.
In the end, John Wick: Chapter 4 is an absolute blast from beginning to end – a true action spectacle. This is the perfect way to cap off a quadrilogy containing some of the best modern action films. It’s a non-stop thrill ride jam-packed with more brutal action than any other film in the franchise. At nearly 3 hours long, it deserves to have that runtime due to how effectively it uses it to flesh out its characters and go all-out on the action. The action sequences are balls-to-the-wall insane, highlighting stunt work that is truly masterful. I cannot wait to revisit this thriving world and these rich characters again in the future.