‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ Review: Action Cinema At Its Finest, The Franchise Reaches A New High 

From the first frame, “John Wick: Chapter 4” punches so hard you feel it. Keanu Reeves returns as the titular character who is trying to earn his freedom. In order to do that, he has to defeat the High Table, who are hunting him. It’s a mission that takes Wick worldwide and right into the path of an army of brutal adversaries. Thankfully, he has friends along the way who can help him. 

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The plot is simple, but the execution is as lean, mean, and brutal as it is intelligent and rich. Director Chad Stahelski, who has helmed all of the previous Wick films, returns to helm this intoxicating blend of passion and power steeped in revenge that has a runtime of 2 hours and 49 minutes but absolutely flies by with not a second wasted. 

With creator Derek Kolstad stepping away from scripting duties for this installment, he has handed the reins entirely to Shay Hatten, who co-wrote the previous entry in the series, and Michael Finch. The transition is seamless, and, if anything, the fresh eyes have fueled the fire in the belly of this beast. “John Wick: Chapter 4” is action cinema at its finest. While these films are never really about dialogue, the narrative is tight and slick, and the characters are nicely drawn and developed, even those with limited involvement in the bigger picture.

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Reeves iconic assassin has always delivered, but here, the director’s furious and flawless vision, captured impeccably by returning cinematographer Dan Laustsen, exceeds expectations and revels in its It revels in its neo-noir action thriller roots. The pair turn out a freight train of immaculate and breathtaking set pieces that set a new standard for the series, the franchise, and potentially the industry. You could take so many scenes from “John Wick: Chapter 4” and hang them in a gallery. So many shots are pure art, with incredible use of light, color, and texture, creating an intense and beautiful canvas for impeccable stunt choreography. 

As with the previous films in the series, Reeves is joined by an incredible ensemble cast, but this time the bar has been raised even higher. The legendary Donnie Yen gives a brilliant performance and effortlessly steals scenes as Caine, a blind assassin and friend of Wick’s, who is tasked with locating and killing the assassin. In return, he will be allowed to live a quiet life, and his musician daughter will be safe. That mandate comes from the megalomaniacal Marquis de Gramont, played deliciously by Bill Skarsgård, one of the High Table’s most powerful figures. However, as is the way with the franchise, Caine is not the only one after Wick. Among those also on his tail is Shamier Anderson, who plays The Tracker, a brilliant marksman with a canine sidekick who is so solid an addition that he deserves his own spin-off.

As well as enemies, Wick has an army of allies, including returning characters the Bowery King, played by Laurence Fishburne, and Ian McShane’s Winston, the manager of the New York Continental Hotel whose outpost is destroyed by the Marquis as payback for helping the hero of the piece. Joining the friend list is Hiroyuki Sanada as Shimazu, the manager of the Osaka Continental Hotel, a custodian who faces a similar situation when it becomes known that he’s offering refuge to Wick, something his daughter and assistant Akira, played by Rina Sawayama, warned him about and advised against. They make a formidable pairing.

The Japanese hotel Shimazu oversees plays host to one of the most incredible action sequences of the franchise. Aside from battling the legion of High Table operatives, Sanada and Yen go head to head. Whether it’s the chaotic and frenetic battle between Caine and Wick or the face-off between Caine and Shimazu, the first prolonged battle sequence in this veritable buffet of beatdowns is a bloody and ballistic ballet that will have you holding your breath. What plays out on screen is almost unbelievable alchemy and only escalates as Wick moves from location to location. For a franchise to best itself from film to film is not unexpected, but to take it up so many notches, time after time, in the same movie raises the bar for both the Wick universe and the genre. 

En route in his quest for freedom and readmittance into a family, something he needs to do to permit him to challenge the Marquis to a duel, Wick finds himself in Germany. Along with The Tracker, he ends up playing a high-stakes card game with an unrecognizable Scott Adkins as Killa, the head of the German High Table. However, even having a common enemy doesn’t exactly bring them together. Adkins has a field day with the rotund scumbag, being given room to go to town with the caricature while staying on the right side of cartoonish. Even in a fat suit, he’s a fierce force to be reckoned with, bringing a unique chaos and spirit to the proceedings. 

Wick’s journey ultimately takes him to Paris, where even before the duel, in which the Marquis has opted to have Caine take his place, he is locked in a breakneck car chase through the city that is pure chaos, culminating in an epic and a somewhat insane martial arts battle in the middle of traffic circling the Arc de Triomphe that shares the honor of best action sequence with a mind-blowing firefight in an apartment building. Expect jaws on floors and loud proclamations of disbelief in the movie theater as the relentless action rampages across the screen as it charges toward the finale. 

Pure power, “John Wick: Chapter 4” is as exhilarating as it is exhausting. With this wildly satisfying world tour de force, Reeves’ Wick transcends icon status delivering the perfect bone-crunching crescendo to one of the great action franchises in cinema history. It’s pure gold. [A]

“John Wick: Chapter 4” hits theater March 24 via Lionsgate.