by HAYDEN MEARS
From the get-go, the John Wick franchise has worked hard to distinguish itself from its ilk. The first film won audiences over with a potent balance of brutal action and staggered world-building, while the second and third instalments strove to explain and expand its layered canon. Sure, the pomp and polish of its sophisticated underworld breed a great deal of dissonance (especially for viewers expecting a deeper dive into a seedier, more standard underbelly), but it’s in those “Hang on, what?” moments that director Chad Stahelski does his best work. Clandestine assassin societies haven’t been this fun in ages.
John Wick: Chapter 4 has the same MO as its predecessors: unleash Keanu upon hordes of hopelessly outmatched baddies and watch the body count climb. In many ways, though, this new entry understands its objective better than the others did. It’s absolutely the best of the bunch, even if it does occasionally feel like too much of a good thing. Its world has become a bit unwieldy, but if you can forgive seemingly pivotal characters coming and going without ceremony, you’ll have a ball.
Alright, deep breaths! There’s tons going on this go-round, and it can be tough to keep up: Winston (Ian McShane) must answer for the recent trouble at the New York Continental, while the High Table sends its scariest higher-ups out for damage control. This turns the attention to John Wick, whose fixed position at the top of the High Table’s shit list has ruffled the feathers of some very self-important psychopaths. Enter Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård), a bloodthirsty enforcer who stoops to extraordinary lows (such as forcing Donny Yen’s Caine back into service) in his crusade against John Wick.
John Wick: Chapter 4 constantly devises ways to outdo itself, a habit it shares with the long-running (and markedly inferior) Fast and Furious franchise. But Wick‘s creativity is more technical. Rather than throwing Reeves in front of a torpedo or having him drag a giant vault along South American highways, director Chad Stahelski guns for something more artful, elegant, and in tune with the specific strengths of the medium: perspective. Stahelski approaches action like a kid trying to shake up playtime; he’s just as interested in how he films as he is in what he films. The bottom line? He wants every viewer to have the best seat in the house.
But that’s not to say Chapter 4 has no sense of scale or scope. It’s just that Stahelski’s interpretation of scale – and how to increase it – runs counter to the instincts of other popular action franchises (see Fast and Furious). For Stahelski, “going bigger” doesn’t mean pitting immutable protagonists against a wrecking ball or dangling Tom Cruise out of an aeroplane. Following Wick – from a bird’s eye view – through Parisian floor plans as he guns down henchman is much more interesting to this crew, and it shows.
Now, this wouldn’t be a proper John Wick review without some mention of its worldbuilding, which somehow feels even more dialled up and dialled in here. Chapter 4 takes its mythology far more seriously than it does its action, which, rather incongruously, ends up a boon rather than a bane. The fact that the John Wick movies have never been overly serious about action is precisely why they’ve become so iconic. Hell, Ian McShane even prefaces the final confrontation with, “Just try to have fun out there.” In Assassin Land, duels to the death are treated with the same cheerful nonchalance as a game of recreational kickball.
We wouldn’t have it any other way.
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4 opens in cinemas March 24th