TWENTY-ONE action sequences in 17 set pieces, spread across almost three hours. That is what John Wick: Chapter 4 delivers. Bigger and bolder than before, it’s peak Hollywood action spectacle, with very little of the pitfalls.
At the end of John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is shot before falling off a building, and is then rescued by the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne).
In JW4, Wick retaliates against the High Table, which causes the high-ranking High Table member Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgard) to put the biggest bounty on Wick’s head.
Realising the only way ‘out’ of this world is through the Marquis, Wick challenges him to a duel to the death.
Directed once again by stuntman and now premier action film director Chad Stahelski, JW4 puts Keanu Reeves’ now iconic action hero through a final gauntlet of gunfire, close-quarters combat and vehicular mayhem to deliver a swansong for the franchise.
JW4 has the most action sequences (and set pieces) in the entire franchise. Period.
Aware that he can’t have the entire film be just Reeves jiu-jitsu’ing and shooting people in the head, Stahelski digs deep into his bag of tricks.
The first card he pulls out is bringing new characters into the franchise and then developing the action around them.
New faces, new kills
Donnie Yen’s debut in the franchise is as Caine, a blind assassin and an old friend of Wick. Caine uses both a handgun and a sword (sheathed in his walking stick), along with several other items that allows Stahelski to introduce a different element of action choreography.
Additional two new faces are Japanese veteran star Hiroyuki Sanada as Shimazu Koji, another old friend of Wick’s, and his daughter Akira, played by Rina Sawayama.
As the manager of the Osaka Continental Hotel, Koji’s neon-bathed, multi-floored, expansive hotel serves as the battleground for a whopping nine(!) action sequences. Certain sequences play out in similar set pieces, but never the same way twice.
For instance, in the hotel’s kitchen, Koji’s men (including two huge Sumo fighters) go against High Table’s armored assassins, but in the second kitchen sequence, it’s Caine fighting against Koji’s men.
The films numerous gunfights are never just straight gunfights; sometimes bow and arrows, pencils, dismantled handgun parts, swords and axes are involved.
The final new addition is Shamier Anderson, who plays a tracker that has no official name (he identifies himself as “Mr. Nobody”). Through Nobody, Stahelski brings back something from JW3; Nobody has a dog that joins him in close-combat.
Through Nobody and his dog, Stahelski films one of the most impressive action sequences in a modern action film.
Like old 2D games, where the camera perspective is top-down, JW4 has a sequence where the action is shot from the top, with Wick, Nobody, his dog, and High Table assassins fighting each other as the camera fluidly hovers and floats overhead, as the characters move from room-to-room.
Once again, a new John Wick film proves that behind-the-scenes stuntmen and action choreographers are more than capable in spearheading big budget action films if given the chance.
The end of the road?
Though the action has always been at the forefront of the John Wick films, the heart of the films was sort of lost after the first film in 2014.
From going on an obsessive crusade to exact revenge on those that killed his puppy and robbed him of his avenue for grieving his wife’s death in John Wick, subsequent films became obsessed with the world-building, and the heart and emotion was lost along the way.
JW4 scales back the writing to once again somewhat focus on Wick’s personal desire to leave the bloodshed, and it gives the character a fitting farewell.
Due to the film’s length, JW4 also manages to effectively weave in new characters in an already rich world, potentially setting up future spin-offs.
It’s quite simple why the film has took this path; there is no where else to go, but to have Reeves retire his character, and leave the mantle for others to take up in this hyper-elevated world of assassins.
Like every lit wick that has to burn out eventually, all good things must come to an end.