Director: Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgård, Laurence Fishburne, Hiroyuki Sanada, Shamier Anderson, Lance Reddick, Rina Sawayama, Scott Adkins, Ian McShane
Runtime: 2 hr 49 mins
Rating: M18 (Violence)
Released By: Encore Films
Opening Day: 23 March 2023
Synopsis: John Wick uncovers a path to defeating The High Table. But before he can earn his freedom, Wick must face off against a new enemy with powerful alliances across the globe and forces that turn old friends into foes.
The fourth time is rarely the charm, but ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ is easily the best of a franchise that has seen our titular assassin battle fellow death dealers, kingpins and crime-syndicate eccentrics over three successively more elaborate chapters across almost a decade.
Those who recall the very last chapter will probably remember that John had fallen off the roof of the New York Continental after being shot by its manager Winston (Ian McShane); and in equally dramatic fashion, ‘Chapter 4’ opens with John on horseback chasing after three men in the Moroccan desert, before shooting the Elder – otherwise known as the only individual above the High Table – at point blank range.
Seizing on that act to position himself with the rest of the High Table is the Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgard), who not only summons Winston to chastise him for failing to kill John, but also destroys the New York Continental hotel and shoots dead his concierge Charon (Lance Riddick, whose recent death adds a layer of eulogistic pathos). Across Osaka, Berlin and lastly Paris, the Marquis aims to annihilate John, culminating in a duel of pistols which John challenges the Marquis to at the Sacré-Cœur.
Like the previous chapters, plot is but an obligation to string together the fighting, but even then, this chapter boasts a more narratively compelling story than the earlier world-building sequels. The first not to be written by series creator Derek Kolstad (who remains an executive producer here), it sets John up for the ultimate duel from the second act, and uses the ensuing narrative to explore just what sort of person John is, wants to be, and wants to be remembered by. Without giving too much away, let’s just say it is unexpectedly poignant in how it brings John full circle back to the very first chapter as a man of emotion, most notably as a loving husband.
Yet as fulfilling as his fate may turn out to be, John’s journey would not be complete without some gob-smacking action, and let us reassure you that it is truly breathtaking. Joining Keanu this time round is a magnificent international ensemble including Donnie Yen as a blind hitman named Caine, Hiroyuki Sanada as Wick’s ally named Shimizu, and Scott Adkins in a fat suit and an accent as the German High Table boss Killa, as well as a whole array of weaponry including swords, guns, nanchucks, bows and arrows, pickaxes and even a pencil.
Returning to the helm is stuntman turned director Chad Stahelski, and the level of ambition, imagination and professionalism he displays here is impressive. Among the memorable set-pieces are the very first mano-a-mano between John and Caine in a room of glass-encased weapons and artifacts, an extended brawl between John and Killa in a Berlin nightclub, an aerial view of a series of fights happening in adjacent rooms, and a logistically impossible fight in the midst of whizzing traffic at the Arc de Triomphe. Even at close to three hours, it never gets boring or feels repetitive at any point, which is again testament to the achievement of Stahelski’s choreography.
That it proves so engaging is also credit to Reeves, who reinvented the action hero with ‘Point Break’ and ‘Speed’ and is still going hard at it at the age of 58. Demonstrating yet again his rooted fighting style, Reeves is effortlessly charismatic in each and every one of the action scenes, holding his own against such heavyweights as Yen and Adkins; in particular, the Berlin nightclub brawl with Adkins as well as a chase on the 222-step staircase leading up to the Sacré Coeur is punishing to watch and yet deeply humbling as a reflection of Reeves’ dedication to the stunt work.
Like we said at the beginning, ‘Chapter 4’ is easily the best of the franchise thus far. Each of the set pieces is visually distinct, meticulously designed, staged and filmed. The story is also carefully constructed to give sweet closure to John’s ceaseless fight from the very first chapter, not just in form but also in substance and significance. Its brilliance easily catapults the series to the very defining mark of Reeves’ filmography, even more so we would argue than ‘The Matrix’, and if this is indeed farewell for John, then we couldn’t have asked for a more glorious, exhilarating and poignant way to say goodbye.
(As glorious a finish as the 'John Wick' franchise deserves, 'Chapter 4' has beautiful action, a magnificent ensemble and the inimitable Keanu Reeves)
Review by Gabriel Chong