In late 2014, after another year of ups and downs, overs and unders, and everything in between, this intrepid writer was on his yearly catch-up with some of the films he’d missed, eager to complete his end-of-year list before settling on his top ten. Amongst them was an action thriller starring Keanu Reeves that, whilst having a large-ish cinema release, was one that had passed him by, despite both the best intentions and Reeves’s most recent efforts around the time – 47 Ronin, Henry’s Crime, The Day The Earth Stood Still, to name but a few – hadn’t exactly set the world alight. Still, there was a showing of it late one evening, and along he went, and what a shock/relief to discover something really special. Almost a decade later, John Wick is still knocking around as well as knocking out bad guys and in his fourth outing, he tops all that has gone before.
With the bounty on his head ever increasing following his previous exploits, legendary hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) wants out of the game once and for all and, to do so, he needs to take the fight home, so to speak, to the High Table, the global entity powering the underworld and which still wants him dead. The head of the vicious snake is the Marchese de Gramont (Bill Skarsgard) who, with his power ever-diminishing, bribes former assassin Caine (Donnie Yen) out of retirement to take down Wick once and for all whilst dismantling any allies the hitman might still have, including Winston (Ian McShane) and Charon (Lance Reddick) and The Continental, assassin friend Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada) and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne).
As we journey through the cinematic treats in store through the year, the monopoly of franchises is still as much of a juggernaut as it was pre-pandemic but in recent months, many of them have found their long-running and ever-expanding natures to be something of a challenge. Marvel, DC, Fast and Furious, James Bond, Star Wars, and more have found the weight of expectation to be quite substantial, and all, for one reason or another, have seen their foundations shaken and their qualities questioned. There are exceptions, though, both of which have much in common: John Wick and Mission: Impossible – two long-running series that have not only gotten better as they have gone along but also embrace fully their stories and have stayed true to themselves through their various installments without the need for variation or doing too much, too soon.
Indeed, both have also relished the visceral physicality of both their action routes and their worlds, grounding them in a heightened reality that keeps audiences on the edge of their seats in a different way. With Wick, as the stakes got higher (and, yes, the number of bad guys has grown exponentially), the filmmakers and the stunt teams only pushed themselves further and with Chapter 4, they have outdone themselves yet again with some of the most extraordinary fight sequences and choreography we’ve ever seen.
There’s always been an “old school” feel to the films, embracing what can be physically done in-camera, and such decisions have been showered with praise but in its latest installment, the teams have truly outdone themselves. From a remarkable opening salvo in The Continental in Asia to a neon-drenched, water-soaked sequence in a vibrant Berlin club to an extraordinary final act in Paris – some in single, unbroken shots – that encompassing the Arc de Triomphe, the Montmartre stairs and The Basilica of Sacré Coeur de Montmartre, this is a feast for the eyes and music to the ears with Reeves once again revelling in the black suit, the great Yen alongside him blow for blow, as well as an awkward yet alluring turn from Skarsgard as the film’s big-bad.
There isn’t much to really say here that will have any impact on whether or not you see John Wick: Chapter 4 or not if you’re already invested in the series, you’ve probably already booked your seats, but take solace in knowing that the latest – and, indeed, biggest – Wick-a-thon is a kaleidoscopic, energetic, kinetic, and superb action thriller that is easily the best of its ilk we have seen in a decade. Now, about part five…
Action, Thriller | 2023 | Lionsgate | Release Date: 24th March | Cert 15 | Dir: Chad Stahelski | Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Bill Skarsgard, Donnie Yen, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Hiroyuki Sanada, Scott Adkins, Natalia Tena