On the surface, the John Wick franchise feels like a throwback.
Back in the heyday of action films, the hero was [usually] a man with nothing to lose who creates his own brand of justice. Just like Wick, this genre often included increasingly creative violence (and phallic-sized weaponry) designed to decimate anyone who stands in his way. Standing up against ‘the forces of evil’, these men were usually the ones who were most cold and brutal.
After all, they were only ‘doing what had to be done.’
But, despite its graphic violence, there’s something different about the world of Wick. There’s a sensitivity about this broken Boogeyman that would make Schwarzenegger and Stallone’s films blush. While he may be a cold-blooded killer, there’s a warm heart that beats underneath. Somehow, Wick’s emotional journey feels almost relatable as he yearns for inner peace and freedom.
Even though he won’t hesitate to kill a man with a pencil, a book or even a horse, the Wick franchise has become a celebration of dance, rather than the violence itself. In previous entries, Stahelski has made references to the physical comedy of Modern Times and the elegance of ballet. To him, action scenes are an art form and he and Reeves are at their creative height. Reeves’ insistence on pushing the boundaries of choreography has created a unique style to this franchise that is almost awe-inspiring. From samurai films to westerns, the Wick films have been influenced by some of the great action styles of cinematic history, giving them an elegance to their physical movement that few other franchises have been able to capture.
And certainly, all of these things apply in Chapter 4, a film that is bigger, bolder and (maybe) even better than its previous entries. In the latest entry, Wick embarks upon his path to get revenge against the High Table in an effort to earn his freedom. However, the hunter has also become the hunted as the Table has hired an old friend of equal skill to stop John before he can achieve his goal.
With Chapter 4, Reeves truly takes the action to the next level. As the film progresses, each battle grows in scale and difficulty. Part of the effectiveness of the film stems from the inclusion of franchise newcomer Donnie Yen. Throughout his career, Yen has set himself apart as one of this generations’ great action stars. From the IP Man franchise to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Yen’s speed and precision makes him one of the best martial artists in modern filmmaking and those skills are fully on display here. (In fact, there are moments where Yen’s skills actually make Reeves look slow by comparison.)
What’s more, the inclusion of Shamier Anderson as Nobody (and, of course, his ‘puppy’) also becomes a fun add-on to the cast. While he may show more brute force then ballet, Anderson’s involvement creates a fascinating trifecta of styles as the three men face-off against one another. With these new additions, set pieces somehow feel even more elaborate and impressive than in previous entries. Battles in the Osaka Continental, a pulse-pounding German party, and, most impressively, the Arc de Triomphe are a treat for the senses as they make brutality seem beautiful.
As is often true for this series, Chapter 4 reminds us that John continues to be haunted by ghosts from his past. Somewhat surprisingly though, Wick’s journey here is as much about family as it is about mayhem. Wick has always defined himself by his relationships, especially that of his wife. In fact, one of the things that make makes John so endearing is that, while others wish to identify him as Babayaga, he views himself as a ‘loving husband’. His identity lies outside the world of assassins, even though it continues to drag him back in. John may be an expert killer, yet he has become lost. Every bullet fired and punch thrown is merely an echo of a heart that aches to be free.
Amidst the wildness of the world around him, John’s soul yearns for peace.
Without giving any spoilers, Chapter 4 may dwell more within Wick’s soul than previous films. (And that’s saying a lot.) With the High Table firmly in his sights, Wick’s motivation begins with revenge but becomes a search for solace. But can John truly exist without the thrill of the kill? Chapter 4 delves deeply within his manner of purpose and whether or not his life still matters when it’s time to put down his weapon of choice.
With pageantry and pistols, John Wick: Chapter 4 is a bombastic blast that elevates the series to new heights. But, as always, the reason this franchise hits the target is the man himself and his quest for inner peace.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is available in theatres on Friday, March 24th, 2023.