Keanu Reeves let the action do the talking in the wildest, Wick-iest John Wick movie yet
John Wick: Chapter 4
Starring Keanu Reeves, Bill Skarsgård, Donnie Yen & Ian McShane
Directed by Chad Stahelski
In theaters Friday, March 24, 2023
He loves dogs, dresses like a scruffy stud and doesn’t say much—except exactly what he thinks.
Oh, and he kills people. Lots of people.
“I’m going to kill them all,” the aggrieved assassin John Wick informs someone in the latest chapter of the action-packed neo-noir franchise, with Keanu Reeves returning to the rock-‘em, sock-em role he originated in 2014.
John Wick: Chapter Four is a ram-jammed, nearly three-hour mega-blast of John Wick doing his John Wick thing. It may be the John Wick-iest John Wick yet.
Wick is, indeed, a killing machine, the world’s most feared—and hunted—hitman, as lethally skilled in ancient martial arts as with all kinds of modern munitions. He’s tried to get out of the dirty-work business before, but he’s mired in the muddy, bloody pull of his past. There’s always an old score to settle, a crooked wrong to make straight, something unconscionable to be avenged. So, he fights, he shoots, he stabs. And despite his constant brushes with death, he’s become seemingly indestructible, a killer immune to being killed, an anti-hero demigod of destruction. At the end of his previous flick, he was plugged (three times!) at close range and sent hurtling off the tiptop of a hotel building.
And somehow—improbably, impossibly—he survived.
Now Wick’s got a multimillion-dollar bounty on his head, and every other hired killer on the planet is hot on his trail.
Actions once again speak louder than words in John Wick: Chapter Four, which ups its own ante for explosively entertaining, hyper-stylish slugfests and ridiculously elevated battle royale body counts. Reeves reportedly trained for months to perform much of his own stunt work for the slam-bang sequences and extended fight scenes, in which brutal jiu-jitsu, judo and old-fashioned hand-to-hand grappling are punctuated by guns, axes, knives, bows and arrows and whatever else might be handy, such as a pencil. It’s a masterfully choreographed, expertly orchestrated symphony of ridiculously vicious international mayhem as he blasts, booms and bashes his through endless waves of attackers in lush, elegant locations across the globe.
And as always, he’s a man of few words. He enters the movie with one, “Yeah,” and leaves with another, “Heaven.” He’s a tortured soul with little use for pontification as he continues to grieve over the loss of his beloved wife and his dog and long for release, somehow, from all the bad karma he’s kicked up over the years.
“Everything he touches dies,” says one character, after Wick has mowed down three Middle Eastern dudes on horseback, galloping ahead of him across a desert, to finally come face-to-face with some kind of gangster sheik. And it doesn’t end well for the sultan—or anyone else who gets in Wick’s way.
So, is he a good guy killing bad guys? A bad guy killing even worse guys? Or a guy who used to be bad, but finding it impossible to be good in a world upside-down and inside-out with evil?
He’s on a violent quest for his freedom from an organization called the High Table, a council of Illuminati-like crime overlords who run the criminal underworld—and much of the rest of the world, too. Now Wick finds himself on the High Table’s hit list, excommunicated and mostly on his own. How far will he have to go, and how many casualties will be left in his wake before he can be free of his past? Can he ever be free?
It’s a beefcake-y man’s world, for sure, with very little room for women. The few females that pass briefly through are also skilled combatants (the Japanese-British pop sensation Reyna Sawayama makes an impressive movie debut, and we’ll likely see her again) or sideline observers (a pair of glossy lips purring into a microphone for a podcast giving Wick’s whereabouts to assassins).
It’s a wild, Wick-ed ride around the planet, a world tour of outrageously complex fight scenes that begins in Japan, makes a stopover in Germany and finally sets down in France. There’s a magnificient mosh-pit melee inside a packed Berlin disco, a crazy confrontation amidst traffic zipping around the Arc de Triomphe, and a life-or-death scuffle on an outdoor stairway. Everything leads to a climactic single-pistol duel at sunrise, spaghetti-Western style, in front of the Eiffel Tower.
Bill Skarsgård, so good at being bad (he was the creepy killer clown in It), is the Marquis, a High Table official who’ll go to any lengths to eliminate Wick. Ian McShane returns as Wick’s mentor, Winston; he’s the manager of The Continental, an exclusive hotel for the underworld. Laurence Fishburne reprises his role as the Bowery King, who runs a hideout disguised as a homeless shelter. Scott Adkins is a fat-cat, gold-toothed Russian mobster who challenges Wick to a fateful game of five-card draw. A former hitman, the blinded Caine (Donnie Yen), is blackmailed into the unsavory assignment of killing his former friend. We meet a mysterious new foe, the bounty hunter known only as the Tracker (Shamier Anderson), who’s also on a global Wick-finding trip, lured by a reward that eventually notches up to $40 million. But neither Caine nor Tracker really wants to kill Wick; it’s strictly business, the way John Wick’s world turns on its twisted axis.
Speaking of strictly business, the John Wick franchise has pulled in more than $300 million, and Reeves says there will be more movies to come. Next up, reportedly, he’ll return in a couple of spinoffs and prequels, one starring Ana de Armas as a ballerina assassin, and the other telling the backstory of The Continental. And there’s supposedly a John Wick: Chapter 5 ready to rumble, waiting in the wings.
“Have you given any thought,” Winston asks Wick at one point, “to where this ends?”
A valid question for a franchise that seems impervious to winding down, about a character with a track record of not dying. The movie raises other questions too, as it catches it breath between beatdowns, in softer musings about family, fathers and daughters and husbands and wives, brotherhood, religion, spirituality, mortality, how anyone becomes who they are—and if it’s possible to change.
You may have some questions of your own, like where can you, too, can find a customized bulletproof Kevlar suit, or at least one resistant to wrinkles and stains? Is nearly three hours too long for almost any movie? (Answer: Yes, it is.) Is a movie riddled with bullets and bullies the right entertainment for our times, with gun violence at epidemic levels and more than 80 mass shootings in the United States so far this year? (Answer: Perhaps no—but John Wick’s super-stylized violence is so wildly over-the-top, it seems to exist in a wholly impractical netherworld untethered from our own.)
But my burning question, and a practical one for hitmen everywhere in this tax season: If you were successful in killing John Wick, where would you enter that $40 million on your 1099?