John Wick Chapter 4 review

John Wick: Chapter 4 is a stellar entry in a franchise that keeps on giving

3.5 out of 5 stars

As each new Marvel movie follows the law of diminishing returns, one franchise sets itself apart. After the unexpected success of John Wick in 2014, the film has followed up with three sequels that always strive for morel . In the lead role, Keanu Reeves anchors beyond its action movie tropes, underlining the reluctance and pathos of a man in grief. With John Wick: Chapter 4 hitting theatres, the franchise has never had more money or ambition. While running nearly three hours long, the franchise’s latest (and possibly last) film goes all out.

Deep in the lore of the underground organization of trained assassins, John Wick is making his final plea to free himself from this world. With the ever-increasing price on his head, Wick finds a path that might win him his freedom, but he has to face a powerful new enemy, the Marquis (Bill Skarsgård).

More than ever, John Wick: Chapter 4 leans into the aesthetics and pacing of video games. The film feels structured around increasingly challenging “levels” that Wick needs to navigate through in his quest to face off against the Big Boss. Though beautifully framed and lit, dialogue scenes seem structured as cut scenes. Though this might sound like a potential knock, the layered nature of the storytelling also means that style and personality are the priority. Characters who appear for just a handful of scenes are extravagant and strange, with each bit of detail carefully crafted for optimal pleasure.

The film similarly leans heavily into a more expressionistic use of visual effects. In one sequence, a fight unrolls in the roundabout of the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Like Frogger on a human scale, characters fight and roll around as cars race past them (or, as often is the case, directly into them). Other scenes use compositing to heighten the drama of composition, framing landmarks to emphasize proximity to power literally and symbolically. It also boosts colours and lighting, crafting a vibrant and colourful film amidst a cinematic landscape drowning in muddy, browned effects. Rather than aim for authenticity, they lean into the painterly potential of new technology.

John Wick Chapter 4 review
Bill Skarsgård in John Wick: Chapter 4

This approach might have been risky if the filmmakers hadn’t committed to keeping the film’s heart — raw and intimate action sequences — as down to earth as possible. As the series’ scope has grown to encompass new mythologies and characters, it’s always kept in touch with the high-quality action sequences that helped propel the first film to success. The fights here are spectacular, riveting and character-driven. They even have a playful sense of humour, particularly during a late-film fight on a staircase that invokes the idea that in a video game, your character gets multiple lives as long as you start the level again from the top (or, in this case, the bottom).

Most importantly, though, the film progresses John Wick’s emotional journey, thrusting him into the spiritual. As he reaches the end of his quest to be freed from the bounty on his head, free to return to his quiet life, the question of what it means to be a good man rises to the surface. Considering the blood on his hands, will Wick be spiritually redeemed? The film offers challenging questions as it errs from the idea that living a good life means to love and be loved. 

The film’s cast never fails to delight, and familiar faces like Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne and Lance Reddick (RIP) return to deliver heartfelt performances. New additions to the cast, Bill Skarsgård, Donnie Yen and Shamier Anderson, blend seamlessly into the world, adding new textures and nuance to the universe. Also noteworthy is that Anderson, dog included, feels the filmmakers might be setting him up for a spin-off. Unlike most franchise filmmaking’s strange cliffhanger shoehorned style, though, Anderson’s character feels deeply integrated aesthetically and thematically into this film. He could do just as well as a one-off compelling secondary character.

John Wick: Chapter 4 may or may not spell the end of the titular character, but it does feel like a fitting finale. For fans of the franchise, it’s unlikely that this film will disappoint. It keeps close to its roots while similarly reaching for new heights of style and action. The film can feel a little long, but compared with the recent influx of interminable three-hour flicks, you certainly can do worse. If only other franchises maintained this level of ambition and quality throughout. ■

John Wick: Chapter 4 (directed by Chad Stahelski)

John Wick 4 opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, March 24.

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