Monday, March 20, 2023


 by Rob DiCristino

Sometimes, less is more. But not this time.

About midway through John Wick: Chapter 4, Winston (Ian McShane), the fussy and insouciant proprietor of New York’s Continental Hotel, walks to a business meeting at the Louvre. The camera trucks along with him as he goes, framing him in such a way that his movements — and the massive canvases behind him — are exaggerated. We follow him for a few seconds. Then a few more. Keep going. Still going. On and on. He arrives at his destination only after we’ve had a good giggle at Chapter 4’s indulgence, that boiling-over of glee that comes with watching a film that knows it has us in the palm of its hand. Chapter 4 has lots of indulgent moments like these, befitting the series’ growing disregard for the trifling narrative limitations with which only lesser films busy themselves. We’re running purely on vibes, folks, and why shouldn’t we? If we’re still following Winston and his dog-loving friend into their fourth adventure — a 170-minute-long adventure, at that — we’ll follow them anywhere they want to go.
We’ll start in Morocco, where John Wick (Keanu Reeves) assassinates the Elder (George Georgiou) for sanctioning the attack on the Continental that closed out Chapter 3. In response, the Marquis Vincent de Gramont (a delightfully foppish Bill Skarsgárd) — newly-minted member of the fearsome High Table — destroys the Continental, excommunicates Winston, and executes his right-hand man, Charon (Lance Reddick). Wick regroups with the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne, inhaling whole slabs of drywall) in Osaka, where Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his daughter (Rina Sawayama as Akira) run the local Murder Hotel. Betting his future on Wick’s demise, the Marquis enlists assassins Caine (Donnie Yen) and, eventually, Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson) to settle the score. With enemies closing in from every direction, Wick has only one option: Challenge the Marquis to single combat, sever his ties to the High Table, and finally earn the inner peace that slipped away thousands and thousands of bullets ago.

Folks who have missed out on the last few John Wick adventures are likely to find that plot synopsis a little baffling, as the series has long-since abandoned the street-level, Lionsgate seediness that made that first film such a charming sleeper hit. No, the Wicks are big-budget events, now, neon-soaked showcases designed to send Action Twitter into greater and greater tizzies with each new entry. Chapter 4 rises to the challenge, flexing serious clout by recruiting genre mainstays Yen, Sanada, and Scott Adkins (under heavy prosthetics as hulking bruiser Killa) into the fold. Each performs as advertised, especially Yen, who is a metric fuck-ton cooler than anyone else in the cast and manages to steal entire scenes just by sitting quietly in corners. Series director Chad Stahelski knows exactly how to give his audience what they want, at this point, working with screenwriters Shay Hatten and Michael Finch on set pieces that push the limits of gun-fu in new and — in the case of some especially brutal falls — unexpected ways.
And so, if you come to the John Wick series for relentless brutality — for a series of endless, exhausting bouts of mortal combat played out in wide-angle long takes — then Chapter 4 will not disappoint. If you come to the series to laugh along as everyday objects are made into lethal weapons, then watching John Wick play a hand of poker will surely be worth the price of admission. If you demand that more layers be added onto the series’ increasingly-preposterous and untenable worldbuilding (Chapter 4 introduces the legendary Clancy Brown as “The Harbinger,” a High Table agent whose primary function seems to be scowling at Bill Skarsgárd), then go with God and chase your bliss. John Wick: Chapter 4 is a grandiose menagerie of sleek and stylish thrills sure to satisfy the fourteen-year-old boy in all of us, that nagging voice in the back of our minds insisting that a shotgun blast would be a thousand times better if it could also set a guy on fire. That voice is valuable, friends, and we have no business ignoring it.
But if you remember 2014’s John Wick the way I do, as a grimy and soulful Death Wish riff that knew how to make the casual indifference of a patrol officer (“You working again, John?”) feel more dangerous than any assault rifle, you just may agree that the series deserves better than what Chapter 4 has to offer, that all the complex High Table mythos and bulletproof three-pieces in the world can’t replace pathos, grace, or basic narrative coherence. The Wick series seems to delight in making itself up as it goes along, and no dyed-in-the-wool genre fan could ever deny its hedonistic pleasures. But there may come a time when we finally push our luck a little too far, when we start to remember that the abstract concept of a High Table is much more intriguing than spending an hour lost in its baroque political landscape and that John Wick’s roaring rampage of revenge was once waged against characters who, you know, actually wronged him in a direct way. Less is sometimes more, Mr. Wick. Don’t forget that.

John Wick: Chapter 4 is in theaters Friday.


  1. Rob,

    Impeccably well-written review, as always. No shade thrown at the rest of the FTM stable, but your writing is concise but colorful; loose but oh-so-on-point. Reading your reviews feels like a cool beverage on a hot day.

    With John Wick 4, I landed almost where you did: happy with the end result, even though it felt very overstuffed and very far away from JW1. Ignoring the entire deluge of planned JW Spinoff movies, it was commendable that Chad Stahelski and Co. we're bold enough to choose to end the movie how it does. Something Marvel and DC would do only if that decision was a back-door pilot for 12 other successive properties.

    There's a lot to love about the JW franchise so far, and it's still delivering the much-needed balm to my big ticket franchise fatigue.

  2. Saw it, like it, missed the universe of the first one, too long, RIP Lance Reddick