‘John Wick Chapter 4’ – Still Trying to Kill the Unkillable
If there is to be a fifth “John Wick” film in our future, or perhaps this can be included in the upcoming spinoff entitled “Ballerina,” in which a father and son visit a memorial which stretches out for a couple of miles. Their dialogue would be comprised of the following:
“Daddy, what is the wall?”
“Well son, this is a memorial for all the people killed by John Wick, a professional hitman and assassin.”
“Wow, there are so many names up there!”
“I know son. Funny thing is, this memorial was opened up the public before those who constructed it realized they had another mile or two to add on. Just when everyone thought John could not kill another soul, he somehow found the strength to kill another human who was sent out to kill him.”
“Why did so many try to kill him dad?”
“Because there was a bounty on his head son, one to the tune of around $20 million dollars.”
“Daddy, are all these names up here to show they did not die in vain?”
“Actually son, it was quite the opposite. This memorial is proof of what happens when you put greed above everything else.”
Right from the start, the “John Wick” movies have shown how its title character is a human being somewhere in between the 1980’s action heroes portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, and John McClane from “Die Hard.” On one hand, John looks to be super-human as he dishes out punishment while taking quite a large number of brutal hits in return, but thanks to Keanu Reeves, who continues to do some of his best work in these films, this character remains fully human as he is not without a soul and is looking to find peace in a world which appears very much devoid of it, particularly for him.
“John Wick Chapter 4” starts not too long after the events of “John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum” in which he found himself betrayed by the High Table. Since then, he has lived in an underground bunker with The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) who has helped nurse him back to health. Suffice to say, John’s bloody knuckles are a sign that he is ready to fight yet another battle. Of course, what makes this even clearer is the following dialogue:
The Bowery King: “You ready, John?”
John Wick: “Yeah.”
But the fact that John Wick is still alive does not sit well with Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgard, who always looks like he is about to start singing “I’m Sexy and I Know It”) who chastises Winston Scott (Ian McShane) and his friend Charon (the late Lance Reddick) for failing to kill this dog-loving assassin. To see that the job finally gets done, Marquis hires Caine (Donnie Yen), a blind assassin who also happens to be an old friend of John’s. Caine is not keen on taking the job, and he shudders once he realizes what name he is reading on a braille card to where he does not even need to spell it all out. As these two come to blows, it does not take much to see how they are both victims of circumstances beyond their control as they fight to protect what they love most.
Director Chad Stahelski knows what we want and expect from a “John Wick” film when we enter then theater, but he is smart to not start things off with too big a bang. During its 169-minutes, he takes his time to reintroduce us into the world John inhabits and of the people in his universe who either benefit or suffer from his deadly actions. And when those action scenes suddenly take flight, you can bet it will take not one or two, but close to a dozen bullets to take out a single bad guy. Watching this, it makes me wonder if John will suddenly run out of bullets at the worst possibly moment.
When it comes to Reeves, many love to joke about what a bad actor he is. As for myself, I feel the need to defend him from time to time even if his work in “Knock Knock” remains too painful to endure. The truth is, he is one of the main reasons the “John Wick” movies work as well as they do. In this latest installment, he receives the deepest of bruises, is almost hung from a noose, has a tattoo searingly burned into one of his arms and ends up falling down more flights of concrete stairs than Father Karass did in “The Exorcist,” and yet he still comes out of all of this standing tall. Even if you wonder if John ever gets any sleep, has any time to go to the bathroom or if one ice bath a day is enough for him, Reeves makes you believe he can endure the worst and yet still come out of it all with a pulse. Even when a supporting character utters to John why he doesn’t just die, he makes you realize he is not about to or, at least, not yet.
Other than that, “John Wick Chapter 4” contains a lot of great things such as Ian McShane’s performance as he plays Winston Scott in a far more gleeful than he did previously, Clancy Brown who proves to be a wonderful addition as a high-ranking High Table operative called the Harbinger, a thrillingly propulsive music score composed by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard, and striking cinematography from Dan Laustsen.
Still, I do need to single out another performance here, and it is the one from Donnie Yen, As Caine, he shows how the blind can see things better than those who still have their eyesight, so it should be no surprise when he easily takes out his devilish opponents with something like the sound of a doorbell. Like John, Caine is in a position not of his own making, and Yen does an excellent job of showing the painful conflicts this character is forced to deal with. As much as he does not want to be in this position, you know he is not about to go easy on his prey. But will he enjoy taking down his target? That remains to be seen.
While watching “John Wick Chapter Four,” I was reminded of what happened after Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” became such a worldwide phenomenon. Hollywood quickly greenlit a number of martial arts films heavy stunts, but none of them were anywhere as successful. Some studio executives proclaimed that these films had the best fight choreographers available, but they clearly missed the point. The best action films out there are not just about stunts, but also about characters with moral dilemmas they are constantly entangled in. Whether or not they win the day, they still wonder what will become of them once all the violence ends.
The ”John Wick” films are not just about stunts; they are about the characters which inhabit them. This is what makes all the amazing stunt work, and it is infinitely amazing here, so bloody effective. Whether or not you consider “John Wick Chapter Four” to be one of the best movies ever made, it is clearly one of the greatest action flicks to come out in recent years, and seeing it once is not enough. More importantly, you have got to check it out on the silver screen with the biggest audience in town.
By the way, there is a post credit scene I encourage you to stick around for. And yes, this film is dedicated to the memory of Lance Reddick, yet another actor who tragically left us far too soon. Rest in peace Lance…
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