It's the fourth and best chapter in perhaps the greatest modern action movie franchise today.
Normally, while most franchises peter out and become stale and creatively bankrupt by this point, I'm delighted to report that John Wick: Chapter 4 remains just as thrilling, fresh and over-the-top as its predecessors.
There's something genuinely unique and even inspiring about this franchise and I think that comes down to simply the level of craft that goes into the massive action sequences as well as the world-building that this series presents with each installment. Not to mention, Keanu Reeves and director Chad Stahelski's single-minded commitment to upping the ante at every turn, be it in the action or the plot.
We pick up the action hot and heavy at the beginning with Reeves' John Wick preparing to exact his revenge on the High Table while he's hiding underground with the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne).
After Wick resurfaces, he discovers that he can win his freedom by engaging in combat with one of the members of the Table: the Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgard). de Gramont is a ruthless individual who is determined to see that John pays for his crimes. He's also someone who is not afraid to go Old Testament on anyone who crosses his path.
Wick takes refuge all over the world by going to the Continental in Japan, where he encounters an old friend turned enemy in the form of Caine (Donnie Yen), a blind assassin who now serves as a right-hand man for the Marquis. Yen clearly is the standout character in this entry as he proves to be someone who is not only in John's league, but also perhaps presents a challenge to John that he may have met his match.
Another individual John has to come face to face with in order to get one step closer to freedom is a German High Table boss named Killa (Scott Adkins). Adkins is virtually unrecognizable behind pounds of makeup and his performance comes off like a campy Bond villain.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the John Wick series is the relationship between Wick and Winston (the magnetic Ian McShane), which serves as like a father/son dynamic and that dynamic is on full display here once again. There's also a scene early in the film between McShane's Winston and the late Lance Reddick's Charon and that scene may be a prime example of tragic irony.
All right. Enough with the plot. Let's talk about the action. It should come off as no surprise that Stahelski knows how to stage beautifully brutal fight sequences, shootouts and chases that while they go on for an inordinate amount of time (I like to think over half of the film's 169-minute runtime is devoted solely to extending these sequences), the filmmakers also know how to keep both the characters and audiences on their toes. The action slams the pedal to the metal and just when it thinks it has left us breathless, it finds even more ways to be exhaustingly inventive and its willingness to be ingenious must be applauded.
Certain sequences that take place in the Japan Continental, the German nightclub and a lengthy albeit riveting climax in Paris are all executed with an extreme level of innovation that it should make other action directors envious. Although I do have to say that Wick survives so many absurd predicaments that would've killed the Avengers.
In addition to the insane action, the performances are also top-notch: Reeves owns this character with minimal dialogue and a steadfast stoicism. Fishburne and McShane play their roles almost like something out of Shakespeare or a Greek tragedy. Skarsgard and Adkins deliver strong work when they're on screen. Plus, last not but not least, Yen's Caine is a fully developed individual with a backstory and a future. I'd love to see him get his own spinoff somewhere down the road.
Reeves, Stahelski and the rest of the cast and crew have concocted an epic conclusion with enough visual grandeur to serve as a fitting swan song for Mr. Wick.
Like I've said in my other reviews for this series, I'll say it one more time: Whoa, indeed.
(Rated R for pervasive strong violence and some language.)