The easiest film reviews to write are the ones born out of complete love or complete loathing; ambivalence for a film is the enemy of writing. Unfortunately, dear reader, I find myself having fallen completely in love with 'John Wick: Chapter 4', a new masterpiece for lovers of hard-boiled action, and am utterly stumped on how to give this film the high-calibre review it deserves (and how to stop myself from simply gushing the whole time). I began my review for the series' previous instalment, 'John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum', by saying that it was not only the best 'John Wick' film but one of the best action films of the last five years; somehow, 'John Wick: Chapter 4' leapfrogs over it to once again become not only the best 'John Wick' film, but one of the best action films in recent memory.
Still on his blood-soaked revenge tour against crime underworld masters, the High Table (and the New York Continental Hotel for betraying him), John (Keanu Reeves, 'DC League of Super-Pets', 'The Matrix' franchise) accrues some old allies and new enemies as the $14 million bounty for his life dramatically increases, and killing the High Table's overlord, the Elder (George Georgiou, TV's 'Sex Education') in the opening moments of this film doesn't help his case. His path crosses with old friend Caine (Donnie Yen, 'Mulan'), a blind and retired assassin who has been marked by a disgruntled High Table member (played to insolent perfection by Bill Skarsgård, 'Barbarian') to kill John. Of course, Caine will have to compete against the plethora of assassins wanting John's bounty for themselves, including Mr Nobody (Shamier Anderson, 'Awake'), a tracker waiting in the wings to strike when the bounty price is just right. This time around, it might just take a miracle for John to make it out alive.
Despite clocking in at a mammoth 169 minutes, I never wanted 'John Wick: Chapter 4' to end. At one point, my watch screen lit up and the joy I felt in realising the film still had 45 minutes left was akin to waking up in the middle of the night and realising you have hours of sleep left before your alarm. Unlike the previous instalment, 'John Wick: Chapter 4' takes its time ramping up the action; save for a glorious horseback chase that pays to homage to 'Lawrence of Arabia' in the film's first five minutes – yes, the film is that epic – it takes a solid half an hour for our first major action set piece, and it's an absolute showstopper.
I could dedicate an entire review to just how impeccably the fights in this film are choreographed and shot; some don't even have a musical score because their tension is baked into the scenes so well. There are far fewer cuts than many audiences would be used to with fight scenes of this scale – and I'm being as vague as possible to keep the film's best moments a surprise – which allows the choreography to shine. The 'John Wick' series has made a name for itself with increasingly dynamic fight scenes, and in this instalment cinematographer Dan Laustsen ('Nightmare Alley') leans all the way into the maximalist lighting and movement found in the series' best set pieces. John has fought in a number of nightclub fights before; here, the nightclub has multiple water features that give all the drama of a thunderstorm. 'Parabellum's' explosive closing battle takes place in an entirely glass building; here, glass encases a museum inside the Osaka Continental Hotel that looks absolutely stunning when it shatters during a fight. There are more hitmen than you can poke a knife at, with John almost always going back to lodge one last bullet in their heads for good measure (the number of headshots in this film is eye-watering). The film is gleeful in its overblown violence while simultaneously conveying just how much of an effort John is going through to survive. No fight ever feels too easy, even for a man of John's reputation – simply put, he's just getting too old for this. Thankfully, the supporting cast get to kick just as much ass as he does; martial arts legend Donnie Yen devours every single scene he is in, and singer Rina Sawayama (in her debut performance) gets one of the most brutal kills in the film involving two blades and a staircase. These fights are a perfect blend of the Eastern influences the series has historically paid homage to, and good old-fashioned Western shootouts.
'Parabellum's' explosive closing battle takes place in an entirely glass building; here, glass encases a museum inside the Osaka Continental Hotel that looks absolutely stunning when it shatters during a fight.
In fact, one of 'John Wick: Chapter 4's' many miracles is how well it balances all of its elements; it's both funny but nail-bitingly tense, a full-blown epic and a deeply personal story of a man just wanting to find peace. The love that director Chad Stahelski ('John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum') has for this story and this series is palpable, and taking breaks between the lengthy action sequences allows the story to both effectively develop and for John to take a damn rest. What's also unique about the 'John Wick' series is just how unafraid it is to deepen its lore - and the silliness of said lore – with each new outing, and it's a treasure to watch it all unfold. Both New York Continental manager Winston (Ian McShane, TV's 'American Gods' and 'Deadwood') and his concierge Charon (the late Lance Reddick, 'Godzilla vs. Kong') are given satisfying arcs, and the slew of new characters we are introduced to never feel one-dimensional. Laurence Fishburne (TV's 'Black-ish') also pops back up as the Bowery King, a more-than welcome presence. It's a lot for any film to tackle, especially as the fourth instalment of a series, but Stahelski makes it all look effortlessly easy. Having cut his filmmaking teeth on a nearly three-decade long career in stunt work, 'John Wick: Chapter 4' feels like a director finally finding his own voice after living in the shadow of his influences for so long. His next film is the Ana de Armas-led John Wick spinoff 'Ballerina,' and all eyes should be laser-focused on that film to see what Stahelski can come up with next.
One may accuse me of hyperbole, but it's impossible to fake when a movie is this good, and makes its audience feel even better. 'John Wick: Chapter 4' somehow manages to outdo its own instalments in both quality and spectacle, making for an unforgettable cinematic experience. See it on the biggest screen that you can, with the biggest crowd that you can. As for every other action film being released this year, they've well and truly got their work cut out if they want to come even close to taking John's crown.