John Wick: Chapter 4 is a wonderful opus of elegant violence, extreme opulence, and enduring friendships. Chad Stahelski, the film’s director, takes the Gun fu fighting style that John Woo popularized in the 1980s and elevates it to its highest form. Dan Laustsen, the movie’s cinematographer, takes the IMAX cameras at his disposal and uses them with the skill of a Renaissance painter. Keanu Reeves (John Wick) drops the cherry on top by delivering a performance that synthesizes all of those elements. John Wick 4 is easily the finest iteration of the John Wick franchise.
Several actors return to reprise roles that have made the franchise a cult favorite. Lawrence Fishburne resurfaces as the Bowery King. His line deliveries are as theatrical as ever and he continues to prove himself invaluable to John Wick as he continues to wage war against The High Table. Ian McShane returns as The Continental of New York’s manager, Winston. Winston comes brandishing the same perfect teeth and hair he’s been wielding since the original John Wick. Lance Reddick makes a tearful reprisal as his concierge, Charon. Reddick has been a supporting cast member at best and a bit player at worst during the franchise’s run, but Reddick’s death last week makes this performance eerily conspicuous and poignant. Newcomers comprise the rest of the cast and that is actually a strength of the movie as it adds a sense of freshness to the story.
There are several standouts amongst this group. Bill Skarsgård excels as the film’s antagonist. He plays The Marquis de Gramont with the arrogance and ambition of a baby-faced Satan. His lifestyle and dapper dress are so grotesquely opulent that you can’t wait for him to get his comeuppance! Shamier Anderson (Tracker) and his tactical Belgian Malinois are surprise stars of the movie. They present a compelling pivot to the Chapter 4 story that adds depth to the film.
Donnie Yen’s performance as Caine feels Oscar worthy. He plays a blind hitman with a very particular set of skills. Furthemore, the cornerstone of the movie is The Marquis’ manipulation of Caine. He compels Caine to hunt John Wick, who is a longtime friend, by threatening the safety of his daughter. The scenario is a bit of a cliché, but Yen brilliantly projects the agony that would come with such a quandary. Not only that, but Caine is the single greatest source of levity throughout the movie. Imagine Mr. Chow from The Hangover (2009) if he knew Gun fu. And while the acting in Chapter 4 is great, the cinematography is even better!
Stahelski has always directed The John Wick story as if it were graphic novel come to life, but he really leans into that strategy for JW4. The sporadic use of subtitles makes certain scenes feel akin to comic book pages and that helps make the movie fun. Subtitles are usually the bane of a movie viewer’s existence, but they are quite helpful in Chapter 4 because they amplify the whimsy or tension of any given scene. Additionally, Laustsen comes to Stahelski’s strategic aid by offering an intensely creative palette throughout the movie. The way that Laustsen amalgamates vibrant colors and inky blacks is genius. JW4 is, objectively, a visual masterpiece.
Overall, John Wick 4 is a gratifying installment of the neo-noir franchise. Everything about it feels fresh, energetic, and smart. Its 3-hour runtime might scare some people off, but it shouldn’t. Stahelski paces the movie really well and Keanu keeps the movie from careening when it starts to get too far over its skis. Moreover, the fight scenes, which make up about half the movie, are epic. One sequence at the start of the third act feels revolutionary in the same way that bullet time felt state-of-the-art when The Matrix introduced it in 1999.
Some of the fight scenes last for minutes without cuts and you can’t help but marvel…the entire time. At points, you simply cannot believe that Keanu Reeves is 58! It’s obvious that the film uses a stunt double for some of Reeves’ more brutal scenes, but it’s Keanu for most of the movie. And that’s what makes the John Wick franchise so great. It’s based on an outlandish premise that is ostensibly plausible, in part, because of the real-life gun skill and physicality of its star. John Wick: Chapter 4 absolutely kills it!
John Wick: Chapter 4 officially hits theaters today!