Chad Stahelski cements himself as the greatest action director of our time with John Wick: Chapter 4 – it’s as simple as that. The journey of this character is a well-known Hollywood success story by now, having gone from a wild indie gamble to a multi-million dollar blockbuster franchise. However, with John Wick: Chapter 4, all expectations are surpassed. This isn’t just the very best of the saga, but a new champion that stands high in the pantheon of today’s top action cinema. It’s one of those rare achievements that gives off the feeling that you’re watching literal cinematic history unfold on screen. The same kind of hyper-adrenaline rush that modern classics like Mad Max: Fury Road supplied us with. The emotional high of John Wick: Chapter 4 is likely going to be almost indescribable for many. What can be described, though, is how goddamn spectacular it is.
Fully recovered from his brutally weakened state seen at the end of Parabellum, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is ready to take on the world. With the help of The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), Wick sets out to hunt down the High Table once and for all. But, of course, this kind of plan only leads to endless bloodshed. The Marquis de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård), a French High Table member, is now fresh on Wick’s trail, and he’s got the deadliest of the deadly at his disposal. One such being Caine (Donnie Yen), a blind assassin who’s one of Wick’s old friends. Caine and Wick share similar histories, both unbeatable warriors that have tried to stay out of the game due to family. Whereas Wick almost pledged his entire life to the Elder and High Table in Chapter 3, Caine fully went through with that decision in his own life.
Against his own will, Caine must kill John Wick at the Marquis de Gramont’s orders. However, there’s a plethora of assassins hoping to get rich with Wick’s international bounty getting higher every day. Enter the Tracker with no name (Shamier Anderson), a cunning and more tactile assassin with a loyally fierce hunting dog at his side. Everyone wants the Baba Yaga’s head, and Wick’s current plan leads to nowhere. No matter how many you kill in the High Table, there will be another ready to take their place. And even John Wick can’t kill everyone in the world. As such, Winston (Ian McShane) forms a plan that can truly get Wick out (again) and restore his peace, which he also benefits from. This leads us to a classic pistol duel abiding by the ancient ways of the High Table, wherein John Wick must put his whole life on the line.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is jam-packed with even more new faces, including Clancy Brown as The Harbinger, Scott Adkins as Killa the head of the German Table, and Natalia Tena as Katia – Wick’s ticket back into the Ruska Roma crime syndicate. Two names who leave a deep impression early on are Hiroyuki Sanada as Shimazu, the manager of the Osaka Continental, and Rina Sawayama as Akira, his daughter and concierge. John Wick: Chapter 4 goes from New York to the Sahara Desert to Osaka to Berlin to Paris and back again. It’s the most global this franchise has ever been, and against all odds, doesn’t feel too overstuffed. Each region gets its own highlighting characters and qualities, like Sanada and Sawayama kicking all kinds of ass with traditional Japanese swordplay and archery while Wick himself takes swarms of goons out with nothing but guns and a single nunchuck.
In many ways, John Wick: Chapter 4 feels like the film Chad Stahelski has been trying to make his whole life. Writers Shay Hatten, who is currently writing the Ballerina spin-off, and Michael Finch form a globe-trotting epic that covers all of this director’s sensibilities. The Osaka set piece bleeds clear inspiration from Kurosawa and classic samurai cinema. Meanwhile, the fact that John Wick’s ultimate freedom and retribution are finally to be decided by an old-time pistol duel couldn’t be more of a callback to Sergio Leone and the western. Stahelski may pay homage and borrow a few notes from these timeless genres, but the final result is a combination unlike anything audiences have ever seen. Through each relentless action scene, Stahelski reminds us that the story of John Wick was never just about revenge. It’s about fighting for the memory of those who are no longer with us.
With these emotions running at their highest, each major action sequence seems like it could be John Wick’s last. The challenges he must face consecutively raise the stakes and every time Wick gets knocked to the floor, he runs lower on the willpower and strength to get back up. The additions of Caine and the Tracker give this installment a more unpredictable edge than previous sequels in this regard. Donnie Yen’s Caine is a standout character from the entire franchise, the actor not only gets some of the most creative kills but also shines through with some hilarious blunt humor. The dynamic between Reeves and Yen brings a palpable sense of tragedy, with Caine mirroring the choiceless assassin Wick could have been. When Shamier Anderson’s charming Tracker and cute yet savage dog get thrown into the action, often all at the same time, John Wick: Chapter 4 soars.
It goes without saying that Keanu Reeves gives his most impactful performance in this fourth chapter. Being so close to the finish line, Reeves is able to convey all the fury, dedication, and even devastation when he reflects on how many of his allies had to die to get him here. The film really sees John Wick in both his most vulnerable and ruthless state, fighting the hardest he’s ever had to hold on to whatever humanity he’s got left inside him. In case it wasn’t obvious already, similar to Chad Stahelski, John Wick: Chapter 4 solidifies Reeves as a true Hollywood legend. Especially when looking back at how John Wick started out as the fairly straightforward premise of an ex-assassin getting revenge for the death of his puppy, it’s hard to argue that any other actor has managed to take such a series to these extreme heights.
For those curious, John Wick: Chapter 4 has the highest body count from the entire franchise no question. Furthermore, discussions and lists about the top action scenes from the whole series will mainly consist of those from this movie moving forward. Multiple set pieces from John Wick: Chapter 4 each feel like a new franchise high in their own right. The Osaka-set battle with Wick unleashing hell with nunchucks has already been mentioned. The Berlin dubstep nightclub brawl with famed martial artist-turned-actor Scott Adkins (in killer prosthetics) is probably the best cinematic adaptation of a Street Fighter video game level you’ll ever see on film. These sequences and more go from 15-25 plus minutes. The grand finale in Paris, though, has to be seen to be believed as Wick practically takes out every single assassin in town.
It would be wrong not to praise the film’s stunt and VFX crew for making the impossible, possible. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen, in particular, has really outdone himself here. The film is as neon-drenched and gorgeously framed as any John Wick fan would expect. Yet, the high saturation and creative lighting are used to bolster the action choreography in more creative ways than you can imagine. One sequence shot over the top as John Wick goes from room to room mowing down goons with dragon’s breath shotgun ammunition is the perfect example of where camera placement and lighting work hand in hand to reach the next level of entertainment. When further elevated by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard’s thrilling score, it’s hard to compare John Wick: Chapter 4 to its predecessors by at least a mile.
Director Chad Stahelski and star Keanu Reeves have created something that will be talked about for decades to come. And it won’t be something that just lovers of genre and action films will be speaking of – John Wick: Chapter 4 has the power to move all. The stuntman-turned-director needs to have his next project at 87eleven productions funded without worry after the world gets to experience this film and if he doesn’t, then that’s all you really need to know about how broken the movie industry can be. It’s unlikely that we’ll something as momentous as John Wick: Chapter 4 again any time soon. So it’s not a question of whether you’re going to love this or not, but how many times you’ll be running to see this in theaters over and over again. Try to savor every insane, ridiculously hilarious kill on the big screen while you can.