Director: Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgård, Laurence Fishburne, Hiroyuki Sanada, Shamier Anderson, Lance Reddick, Rina Sawayama, Scott Adkins, Ian McShane, George Georgiou, Marko Zaror, Aimée Kwan
Duration: 169 mins.
By Henry McKand
Halfway John Wick: Chapter 2the titular black man makes his way down a subway escalator and passes a blink-and-you-eye poster that reads:
“The only way out is to go through.”
Like so much in the series, this doubles as a meta commentary. Yes, the John Wick man must fight and kill and bleed if he is to achieve any semblance of peace, but John Wick the series quickly realized that it, too, needed a tunnel-visioned dedication to unrelenting conflict if it was to surpass its original success.
The brilliant simplicity of that “they killed my dog” film made it easy to root for the stoic hitman even as he slaughtered people only tangentially related to his dog’s fate. It’s not news to anyone now that he has resolutely succeeded in his revenge. However, the acclaim and box office success demanded a sequel. The question was this: why Wick keep killing? Building on the worldbuilding tips of the original, chapter 2 gave an answer:
He has no other choice.
“By dipping a little finger in the pond,” Wick has doomed himself to a world he once fought to leave. The second and third installments saw him embark on a new quest to escape that world again, but never made it clear exactly what he would do if he actually made it. Throughout the series, he is asked whether a return to “normal” life is possible, but to paraphrase the man himself, he never really had an answer. The sequels have continually upped the action ante by distilling the story into single-minded pursuit. Solace may be unreachable, but he tries anyway.
Despite the growing brilliance of their combat, the sequels have been criticized, myself included, for being undersubstantial. Going into chapter 4it seemed unlikely that Stahelski, Reeves and the rest of the team could build 3the delirious heights of the blockbuster while delivering any kind of emotional resonance.
But, in a triumph of sheer effort that would have made Wick himself proud, they did just that. And then some.
While the series is no longer a trilogy, that’s easy to see chapter 4 as his The good the bad and the ugly. The reach is wider than ever, and there are at least two sequences that work films within a film, each with supporting characters vivid enough to warrant their own spinoffs.
Yes, Donnie Yen is here and, no, he’s not drunk. Every action scene he has is beyond brilliant but the emotion and humor of his portrayal of him is what really surprises. The same praise goes to Scott Adkins* and Hiroyuki Sanada and Marko Zaror and Rina Sawayama and Shamier Anderson and Bill Skarsgård AND Clancy Brown, as well as series vets like Ian McShane and Laurence Fishburne and Lance Reddick, whose recent passing lends bittersweet weight to his scenes as fan-favorite goalkeeper Charon.
***(Adkins has been on John Wick-Lists for years, but fan castings have always had him as a mere complement or sidekick. Brilliantly subverting expectations, he finally shows up in chapter 4 like a hulking, flamboyant crime boss in a fat suit).
At the end of the day though, the star attraction is Reeves. From the beginning, this has been his only non-Matrix role to understand what makes him such a magnetic performer (hint: they are not long monologues), but chapter 4 he finds it absolutely transcendent. Every line he reads feels colossal, and it’s the best I’ve ever seen done. He’s long been a myth – now you can practically see him approaching godhood with every perfectly placed hold and headshot.
It’s by far the longest film in the series, so it stands to reason that there are Very of these headshots. Less predictable are the long stretches without any violence. There’s a newly mature attention to character that gives the action a heft that was missing from the original. This is thanks to a serious commitment to the material that would be easy to smile. Whereas David Leitch, the uncredited co-director of the former Wickshe embraced hollow, self-deprecating fluff like Hobbs & ShawStahelski and his team have crafted an honest, modern rōnin film about brotherhood and battle-weariness.
But when do bullets and nunchucks start flying? Mainstream cineplexes have never melted the mind like this one. It is also expertly crafted. In a world where countless Wick clones offer joyless hallway shootouts, chapter 4 it serves as a reminder that even the craziest fight scenes can have a satisfying pace. It’s the series most indebted to Hong Kong-style setups and profits, and the outrageous stunts and violent one-liners remain a pleasure to watch.
This has been said about the Wick movies before, but it has never been more true: this is porn for action fans. Somewhere during the first massive fight sequence, with katanas, arrows, body armor and impossible takedowns, it becomes obvious you’re looking at a new gold standard set in real time. Maybe you, like me, think so WickUltra-precise shooting lacks the messy, operatic beauty of heroic Woo-style bloodshed. Perhaps you are tired of nasty Russian gangsters or “polite and imaginative killers” or the general wave of bland impersonators…
None of that matters once you see what happens when a team of the most forward-thinking artists in action cinema get a blank check to make the gonzo epic they’ve been dreaming of.
It’s beautiful, and thanks to its reckoning with Wick’s endless quest for purpose, it feels meaningful. Touching, even.
For nearly a decade, “John Wick” has been synonymous with cinematic villainy, replacing Jason Bourne and Liam Neeson as THE reigning action icon. It’s a cartoon. A symbol. A Fortnite skin. What him it is not he is a real human being. He barely knew the dog that fueled his vengeance, and the flashbacks of his dead wife that altered the fiber of his soul amount to perhaps a minute of screentime over four films. His only destiny is to fight for reasons he doesn’t fully understand against forces he can never truly defeat.
From another angle, he’s a man trapped in a cycle of bloodshed by a media franchise that only cares about him as the agent of death. Nobody wants an alternate cut of the first film where his dog is never killed. They want to see him dig up his buried guns and do what he does best. Go through hell itself due to majeure forces – criminal corporations AND movie studios – they deemed it so.
But, against all odds, there are small moments amidst the chaos where Reeves, through weary gesture or soulful expression, shows a chink in the character’s armor and offers a glimpse of the man below. These little pauses remind us that, for our hero, there really is a better life, or at least the memory of a better life, to strive for.
In chapter 4, Wick often talks about wanting to remember his wife. He’s the only one in her story who can do that, and he doesn’t talk much about her with the other characters. The implication is that they couldn’t figure out what he had with her. Perhaps that’s why so little of her “happy life” is shown: those moments are too intimate for us to witness, even though they inform every action she takes.
At one point in the film, he is asked how he wants to be remembered. “A loving husband,” he replies. This is the half of him we’ll probably never get a chance to see, but chapter 4 it reminds us, more than its predecessors, that it once existed. Then, with a grin, he shows us in blood-soaked 4K just what his other half is capable of.
Henry McKeand rating: 10/10