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John Wick: Chapter 4 ★★★★★



Director: Chad Stahelski

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgård, Laurence Fishburne, Hiroyuki Sanada, Shamier Anderson, Lance Reddick, Rina Sawayama, Scott Adkins, Ian McShane and Clancy Brown

Release: 24th March 2023

There are moments in action cinema history which leave you breathless. Furiosa (Charlize Theron) driving into an approaching sandstorm in Mad Max: Fury Road. Rama (Iko Uwais) fighting The Assassin in The Raid 2. Or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s Yu Shu Lien’s (Michelle Yeoh) facing off with Jen (Ziyi Zhang). Seeing John Wick (Keanu Reeves) do a 360-degree car drift as he relentlessly shoots his enemies at the Arc de Triomphe – iconic!

John Wick: Chapter 4  is peppered with such furious insanity and spellbinding feats in choreographic stunt work that reiterates the argument for why best stunt work should be a recognised award category at the Oscars. Because this is a John Wick film at its most unhinged, a ‘greatest hits’ of its predecessors while ceremoniously upping the ante and stakes, and if this is the final time we see our favourite gun-fu specialist don his kevlar suit, then it goes out on an adrenaline-pumping high with one of the best entries in the franchise.

Yet despite the euphoria, it would be a remiss not to mention the tragic death of Lance Reddick. The shock of his passing not only reflects how young he was (for a talent who had so much to give to the industry) but the sheer versatility of the roles he imbued. As Charon, his stature, dulcet tones and loyalty to John Wick make him an unforgettable presence that the world will miss dearly.

Loyalty plays a key ingredient. With the franchise four episodes deep, it’s incredible to see how far it has progressed and evolved. Each film reaches a new pinnacle in entertainment, expanding its canvas for a globetrotting adventure yet being a critique of hierarchical power structures. Chapter 4 starts as it means to continue, keeping its premise refreshingly simple: Wick’s path of revenge leads him onto the ultimate road to freedom and a final battle with the High Table.

Fighting against these odds makes John Wick much more of an endearing character. In its humble beginnings, he was simply a man grieving for his wife, pulled back from reality and straight into the chaos due to a murdered dog (a gift from his wife) and a stolen car. By Chapter 4, it’s a departure. Part of the appeal of Keanu’s monosyllabic, no-nonsense performance is how much he channels his struggles. Like Bruce Lee’s Game of Death (a film in which he tragically passed away before completing), each instalment comes at a significant cost to his integrity. The higher he rises through the metaphorical Japanese pagoda, the more the villains represent the High Table’s next level of bureaucracy and capitalism. Chapter 4 is so vivacious in that statement that Bill Skarsgård’s Marquis epitomises opulence and high fashion (already winning best dressed of 2023) with childish arrogance and petulance. The system is so callous and unforgiving in that realisation that no matter who John kills, someone will always be there to continue the never-ending cycle.

So, it’s fair that its latest chapter takes on a different tone that builds intimacy behind the bloodshed to emphasise what has been a code of ethics amongst the assassins – consequences. Shay Hatten and Michael Finch’s thematically-rich script doesn’t just make its story solely about John succumbing to his revenge-seeking Baba Yaga ways with each passing film. It’s everyone in his world that’s affected.

Some would argue that its lengthy running time is excessive and overindulgent – but I disagree. Yes, at 2 hours and 49 minutes, Chapter 4 is the longest in the franchise, but Nathan Orloff’s editing keeps a harmonious balance. Scenes never overstay their welcome. Characters are not treated as an afterthought as story arcs are given their due, and when the action does ramp up, the weight of those decisions made by its leading characters is felt more deeply.

Donnie Yen’s Caine benefits greatly from this detail. As a blind assassin (echoes of Chirrut Îmwe in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), he reluctantly re-joins the servitude of the High Table to protect his daughter by hunting down his old friend John. These moral and complicated decisions put them on a collision course and an inevitable face-off.

It’s a testament to the franchise when it can take bold risks with its material. Not only are there affectionate tributes and homages to cinema, with references to Buster Keaton (an ongoing in-joke between films), Walter Hill’s The Warriors, Laurel and Hardy’s The Music Box, Mission Impossible and many more, but it traverses between genres. As the film ceremoniously begins with The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) announcing the ‘Return of the King’ like an in-ring boxing announcer, John goes on an Indiana Jones ride across the desert before it switches into an Asian martial arts flick before embracing its Western cowboy iconography. And the more it leans into those absurd, ‘throw in everything including the kitchen sink’ aesthetics, the more Chapter 4 fulfils its potential.

The action is sublime. Director Chad Stahelski’s direction produces a career highlight by using every frame to creatively innovate. A simple, one-camera tracking shot is not enough at this stage of the franchise. By John Wick’s standards, it has to go the extra mile – and it does, by placing its camera in a bird’s eye view position to follow the action. These immersive efforts put it in the same league as Mad Max: Fury Road, Gareth Evans’ The Raid and its closest competitor, the Mission Impossible films. It’s boosted by incredible cinematography by Dan Laustsen and Kevin Kavanaugh’s sublime production design. The Osaka Continental is brought to life with atmospheric neon lights, cherry blossoms and Japanese history on display. The sound design is also heightened to dramatic effect.

John Wick: Chapter 4 is a fantastic tribute to action cinema, raising the bar to new levels that won’t be topped for a long time. With Reeves, Yen and Skarsgård in top form, this is cinema at its best by indulging in your appetites and serving you a feast that leaves you satisfied. We’re lucky to have these films in our existence. Now imagine a world without it.

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