“John Wick: Chapter 4” opens with a series of bloody punches and then uses a direct homage to David Lean’s 1962 classic “Lawrence of Arabia” to take the audience into the wild world of the most resilient assassin ever to grace the screen.
Chad Stahelski’s original “John Wick” was wire-tight in its tale of a lone killer seeking revenge. The filmmaker used its violent set pieces like sharp slices from a blade, never slowing for introspection. Wick is a former assassin grieving his dead wife. Men come for him. They kill his dog. He goes for revenge. Bloodshed and outrageous stunt work ensue.
What Stahelski infused into that first film (and its equally excellent sequels) was a sense of style and a knowledge of how to shoot action scenes. A stuntman himself, Stahelski is conscious about what looks good on film. Stunt teams work hard. These people are artists, and the director understands that a shaky-cam style can ruin a good action sequence by making it visually incomprehensible (I’m looking at you “Jason Bourne” franchise!).
Chad Stahelski and his stunt coordinators/performers continue to infuse the “John Wick” movies with exciting canvases of impressive and well-crafted action sequences that never get old, using the camera to capture the action, without trying to give audiences a headache with unsteady camerawork (are you listening, modern moviemakers?)
Insane, extreme, and completely outrageous, in “John Wick: Chapter 4,” every fight scene becomes a visceral cinematic art.
Bigger, broader, and even more stunning, Chapter 4 has John Wick (Keanu Reeves) constantly on the move, blasting through different landscapes populated by hundreds who want to kill him.
In one of the best sequences, Wick lands in Japan at the “Osaka Continental.” It is here the audience is introduced to the film’s two best characters, both played by legends of Hong Kong and Japanese cinema.
Hiroyuki Sanada plays Wick’s old friend Shimazu, who runs the Japanese hotel. Moments after Wick arrives, the two are forced to fight an onslaught of assailants who have been sent by the Marquis de Gramont (a slimy Bill Skarsgård) to destroy the hotel, as he did with the New York Continental days earlier.
Donnie Yen shows up as Caine, another old friend of both John Wick and Shimazu, but he is forced to work for Gramont, as his daughter has been threatened if he fails to comply.
Through a smartly-written arc fueled by the unpredictable and tremendous performance from Yen, Caine will become the most interesting character in the entire John Wick saga. The actor (and the man he inhabits) are truly riveting.
Acting honors also go to Shameir Anderson who plays an assassin who is right behind Wick at every step, but who is waiting for the price in his head to reach the proper amount.
In one of the film’s many tributes, Anderson’s character is named “Nobody”, clearly a reference to the classic Spaghetti Western “My Name is Nobody”. As Terence Hill’s shabbily dressed character of the same name trailed Henry Fonda’s gunfighter who was trying to get out of that world, Anderson’s “Nobody” shadows John Wick in the same manner, gaining a respect and admiration for the man who just wants to leave this violent life. The use of the character is quite clever and surprisingly moving.
Action film aficionados will be over the moon to see Scott Adkins enter the series and his performance unexpectedly excellent. Adkins is “Killa”, a somewhat Sydney Greenstreet-esque character who is as slimy as he is large. Decked out on gold teeth and a purple outfit, Adkins wears a “fat suit”, making him a larger monster of a man. The fun of it all? Adkins (one of the world’s best Martial Artists) still gets to do his signature kicks and spins, as he goes up against Wick. It’s a blast of a scene and a firecracker of a character.
Of course Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, and the late Lance Reddick return to play a big part in the plot; each actor reveling in their moments, making every line pop. Reddick’s inclusion here becomes quite poignant due to his recent death.
The screenplay from Shay Hatten, Michael Finch and Derek Kolstad gives fans of the series what they want, but never take their allegiance for granted, as do so may sequels that merely repeat what worked before.
While certainly not David Mamet, “John Wick: Chapter 4” has a unique depth that one wouldn’t expect from a film such as this.
These are men and women who exist in a world of violence and death. Their fates are never certain, and they act accordingly. Moral centers are what they are and friendships are always suspect.
Such is the world of the assassin, and the screenplay doesn’t take their destinies lightly. The writers took care in creating the characters and it shows, both in their design and in the actor’s’ performances.
Another Herculean feat the movie pulls off exists in its visuals. Cinematographer Dan Lautsen and Production Designer Kevin Kavanaugh make this entry the most artistically stunning of them all.
The film uses meticulously crafted wide shots to show off its exquisitely designed frames. From the action scenes to people walking through neon-lit hotels, to a gorgeous horse stable and the jaw-dropping beauty of a museum where the paintings hang like gods watching over a broken humanity.
In every frame, the motion picture film is visual art.
With each new film, Stahelski and his crew work hard to expand the world of John Wick, taking great care in crafting new and interesting ideas while presenting them with visuals that help to tell the story, rather than just being “flashy” to look cool.
There is action aplenty and it hardly ever stops. Blood spills and sprays and guns blast, swords slice, and knives slash, but there is rhythm and skillful symmetry to it all.
Honor and loyalty, life and death; “John Wick: Chapter 4” explores it all. The film is a feast for the eyes and a visceral thrill for fans of masterfully choreographed action.
From the characters to the action to the lore, and everything in between, this is a truly riveting cinematic experience.