For years, the word ‘taut’ was the best descriptor for the first three ‘John Wick’ movies since they average between approximately two hours and a tad more. It also helps that Chad Stahelski expertly combines balls-to-the-wall action, colorful characters, efficient storytelling, and Keanu Reeves’ perfectly stoic titular performance. They were incredible thrill rides from start to finish, equivalent to a shot of adrenaline.
But this time, the long-awaited ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ sees the returning director gets more ambitious by expanding his latest movie into an unbelievably epic runtime of nearly 3 hours long. Two hours and 49 minutes, to be exact, and frankly, I always worried that an action movie that stretches this long can possibly suffer from bloat, which threatens to overstay its welcome (Michael Bay’s ‘Bad Boys II’ was one of them that quickly came to mind – a nearly 150-minute of overstuffed action comedy that was better off sticking to its reasonable 2-hour length seen in the first movie).
Then again, a longer action movie would work in its favor if there’s a story good enough to sustain our interest (‘The Raid 2’ would be a great example here) because, let’s be real, too much of a good thing (read: action) might either result in a case of visual fatigue or redundancy.
Well, after watching ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ on the big screen, I was just as excited as many people who attended the press screening. Chad Stahelski did it again, proving that even what could have been a doubtful lengthy runtime doesn’t cause the movie to fall prey to familiar criticisms that scream words like ‘overlong’ or ‘protracted.’ It was a maximalist action cinema at its best, with everything bigger, bolder, and above all, better with higher stakes and body counts.
To recap the ending of ‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum’, we last saw Winston (Ian McShane) shoot John (Keanu Reeves) a few times, and he fell from the rooftop of The Continental and tumbling down onto the street below. A couple of bullet wounds and a fall like that would have technically killed a person, but since this is John Wick we are talking about, he’s far from dead other than suffering from a severe injury.
But The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) later discovered John’s body was nowhere in sight after the Tick Tock Man (Jason Mantzoukas) rescued him and brought him over to Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), who was waiting in an underground bunker.
Now, with John Wick recuperated and all, he’s ready to continue his fight against the members of the High Table in a globe-trotting hunt from Morocco to Japan, Berlin, and Paris. But the High Table itself, led by Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård), wants him dead too, so he brings in Caine (Donnie Yen), a blind assassin who used to be John’s friend, and now, he is forced to kill John, or Marquis will make sure his daughter is killed. The movie also introduced another new character, Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson), a freelance tracker capable of locating John Wick’s whereabouts and always has his trusted guard dog by his side.
‘John Wick – Chapter 4’ gets off to a slow, expository-heavy start but rest assured it wasn’t long before Stahelski picks up the pace once the movie shifted its focus to the neon-drenched Osaka Continental hotel building. It was a relentless, elaborate set piece filled with lots of intricately-staged shootouts and knife fights, and we even get to see John Wick taking down as many assassins as he could using a combination of nunchaku and pistol.
And it doesn’t stop there as the sequence includes Yen’s Caine, looking all suave, wearing a pair of aviator sunglasses and a well-fitted suit while carrying a cane with a hidden sword. Yen’s typically nimble martial arts skills are put to good use as he slices and dice the assassins, and despite his character’s blindness, he’s equally fast and accurate even when using guns. We also have the legendary Hiroyuki Sanada as the sword-fighting manager of Osaka Continental and Japanese-British pop singer Rina Sawayama in her acting debut as the manager’s no-nonsense daughter, Akira, added to the mix.
Although the movie takes a breather every now and then, Stahelski ensures the pace remains consistent with more thrillingly-staged action set pieces after another to keep us entertained all the time. Except for the Berlin-set multi-story nightclub sequence that sees John not only dealing with a small army of assassins but also Killa, played by the nearly unrecognizable Scott Adkins in a fat suit. While I admire Adkins’ physical agility and the overall setting that used the water and lighting well, I was expecting a lot more from Keanu Reeves vs. Scott Adkins. Still, it lacks the necessary visceral flair to make the would-be memorable one-on-one fight scene a standout.
Fortunately, the movie gets better with one of the action scenes involving John driving a muscle car around the busy streets overlooking the famed Arc de Triomphe while shooting the incoming assassins. Another one takes place at the 222 steps of the Rue Foyatier staircase. The latter is executed like a video game as John shoots, ducks, reloads, and vice versa against the assassins as he ascends the stairs.
Keanu Reeves may have been 58 years old at the time of the movie’s official release. Still, likewise, he shows tremendous dedication to his craft when perfecting his moves, from shooting and reloading a gun to dispatching assassins with different types of weapons. But of all the cast – both recurring and newcomers – it was Donnie Yen who stole the show as the charismatic blind assassin, Caine. He is given a brief but sympathetic backstory, and I love how Yen plays his role with the steely gravitas of an assassin, making him one of the best characters ever created in the ‘John Wick’ franchise.
No doubt one of the best action movies I’ve ever seen in recent memory, ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ is an exhilarating cinematic event best experienced on the biggest screen possible.