Movie: "John Wick: Chapter 4"
Release Date: March 24, 2023
Director: Chad Stahelski
Run Time: 2 hours, 49 minutes
It's hard to believe Chad Stahelski had any idea what he was getting himself into when Keanu Reeves pitched him on a speculative script that eventually turned into the first "John Wick" movie. The script centered on "the worst man in existence," inspired by terrible revenge movies.
Stahelski was not initially recruited as the director, but rather as a stunt coordinator. He was familiar with Reeves after acting as his stunt double in the first three movies of "The Matrix" series.
He eventually took control of the project, with Reeves' support, on the condition that he would direct it. But even then, the movie was not destined for success. When the movie was completed, theatrical distribution was hard to secure. Lionsgate Films eventually bought distribution rights, and the film exceeded box office projections.
That brings audiences, almost a decade later, to "John Wick: Chapter 4," which has again surpassed expectations, making the most money during its opening weekend than any other movie in the series.
The film is the longest and most expensive one of the series. Stahelski said he wanted it to be a "genre-crossing epic," referencing films such as "Lawrence of Arabia" and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," both of which he pays homage to in "John Wick: Chapter 4."
The runtime, just short of three hours, isn't the only reason the movie has been compared to the epics of old.
In the second and third installments, the scope expanded beyond the first movie's relatively modest setting of New York City to Rome and Casablanca. Yet in the newest iteration, John Wick truly becomes a globetrotter, traversing the Sahara desert, Osaka, Berlin and Paris.
From the beginning of the series, the character of John Wick was a man on the verge of retirement. In "John Wick: Chapter 4," Reeves' character continues his seemingly never-ending journey to find an out from the underground world of hitmen and bounty hunters that he rejoined in the first movie.
Four movies may seem like a lot for such an urgent story of a man seeking retirement, and that's because it is. "John Wick: Chapter 4" has an air of finality around it. Reeves is almost 60 years old. He cannot keep making these physically-challenging movies forever, and the movie has many, very physical sequences, so much so that it has been compared to the slapstick comedy of Buster Keaton.
All of the loose ends left open by the previous movies are wrapped up tremendously. While the door is left open for spinoffs, Wick's story appears to be done, which is for the best. Everything in the film feels earned, unlike other audience-pleasing movies that have dominated the box office recently.
The new characters introduced to the series are the biggest improvement to the "John Wick" formula. Caine, played by Donnie Yen who is a legendary actor and martial artist from Hong Kong, brings a duality to the movie. Yen's character, a blind hitman who wields a cane (a very unsubtle pun on his name), is introduced as both a new foe and an old friend of Wick.
Caine acts as a very effective mirror to Wick. Both men seek to leave a life of crime and violence yet are forced to perpetuate violence in order to quit. Yen brings humor and style to the assassin persona. It's no wonder he has been rumored to star in a spinoff. He is immediately likable and his motivations are clear enough for the audience to sympathize with him.
The "big baddy" of this film, Marquis de Gramont, played by rising star Bill Skarsgård, brings both comedic value and violent brutality. The audience is just as likely to gasp in horror as it is to laugh at the Marquis. Skarsgård absolutely nails the character, infusing him with stupidity, swagger and evil.
The set pieces of "John Wick: Chapter 4," like the rest of the film, are a step up from the rest of the series. Not one cent of the $100 million budget is put to waste. Every location is a treat for the eyes, from an underground Berlin dance club filled with multicolor strobe lights and cascading waterfalls to an action scene that takes place among the traffic surrounding Paris' Arc de Triomphe.
The film operates at a breakneck pace, and when there is a lull in the action, it is used well, such as when Laurence Fishburne's character, the Bowery King, discusses with Reeves what they want their gravestones to state — a true meditation on death that is so rare in a series full of it.
The weapons are more violent and stylish (like a certain shotgun that breathes fire) and the shootouts are more inventive. For instance, there is a scene where the camera floats above and the action is shot overhead as if it were a level in the similarly violent yet cool video game, "Hotline Miami."
The Paris skyline decorates the finale's set at La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre, and it is as beautiful as it is exhilarating. It is one of the best standoffs to have been put to screen, doing justice to the iconic works of Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone.
It is a triumph of action filmmaking and as close to a masterpiece as a piece of art can get. Audiences know what they're going to get out of a "John Wick" movie, and "Chapter 4" delivers that slick action in droves.