The John Wick franchise is one that nobody expected to be big. Remember, it came at a time when Keanu Reeves’ “star” in Hollywood had long since dimmed. But then, everything changed with this franchise and its dedication to action and worldbuilding. The first three films were incredible in one form or another, with the third showing just how incredible action sequences can be when done correctly. But with the fourth tale of the Baba Yaga now here, can it live up to its predecessors? As this John Wick Chapter 4 review will show, the answer is yes, even if the ending is something that will be divisive.
Quick recap. At the end of John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum, John helps Winston and Charon save The New York Continental, but at a cost, as Winston shoots John off the roof of the building. He was saved by the Bowery King, who desired to help him strike back at the table. Fast forward to the beginning of the movie, and John decides to pull a Cobra Kai and “Strike First” by going after the Elder (aka the one who sits above the table) and killing him to make it clear he’ll get peace by any means. What follows is a long but exciting road to freedom with many elements at play.
The movie is all about the rules of the High Table, the choices that John and the other characters make, and the consequences (both good and bad) that follow. To their credit, the movie shows those consequences throughout the film and shows that no one, no matter where they sit at this table, leaves the same as they came in.
Case in point, one of the most shocking moments for me was the destruction of the New York Continental by decree of the Marquis, the villain of the movie. He wastes no time getting rid of it and killing Charon (rest in peace, Lance Reddick) as part of Winston’s punishment for helping out John. Then, as we head to Osaka, Japan, we meet Shimazu, who is an “old friend” of John’s and is willing to talk with him despite his excommunicado status. That leads to his Continental being deconsecrated and him losing his life. All because he made a choice to support John and be loyal to a friend versus just “following the rules.”
And throughout the rest of the story, we see how choices, both past and present, haunt John and others who are around him. Another great example is the new character of Caine, played masterfully and hilariously by the incredible Donnie Yen. He, like John, thought he was out, but John’s defiance of the High Table brought him back in, and he’s forced to make choices (and face consequences) because of what he does…simply because if he refuses to do what he’s told…his daughter dies.
Much of what is great about this film is the actors bringing everything they have, even if they don’t have much screen time.
Not unlike the original John Wick film, all the actors pull their weight to give gravitas to their scenes and impart meaning to what’s happening. When John and Shimazu meet, you can feel the history between them as they talk. Shimazu even tries to support John while giving him advice on how to handle things. As he wisely notes, “not even you can kill everyone.” Winston gets some great moments, too, as he’s put in another unfamiliar position and seeks to both get what he deserves and earn some revenge along the way.
Some of the new characters stand out because of what they add to the proceedings. An excellent example is “The Tracker,” or “Nobody,” as he likes to call himself. He’s a man who doesn’t mind killing…but he wants to get the biggest payout possible. You might think that such a character can’t work within the rules of the High Table, but he makes it work, especially as we get to the climax. Add that to his trained killer dog? And you have a fun duo.
Or how about Scott Adkins? Who comes to play as “Killa” (No, really, that’s his name) and shows just how incredible you can be when you put your all into a role. Clancy Brown also shines as “The Harbinger” and plays the right balance between a man who “is the law” and the “old school dude” you don’t eff around with. Even the Maquis, played by Bill Skarsgard, hits all the right notes, as he’s the guy who seeks to get rid of a menace, climb the ranks, and pull every dirty trick in the book to get what he desires. He’s very much an Icarus-style villain, and his death made me almost leap from my chair in joy.
But let’s get to the real reason you’re here…the action scenes! Before the film’s release, many people were saying that it might be the best action movie of the decade, or at the very least of recent times. Happy to say that they’re right in every way. While Parabellum had incredible action sequences (and Halle Berry, just saying), this movie goes full-tilt with setpieces and one-take-action sequences that put pretty much every action movie you can think of to shame.
Case in point, the assault on the Osaka Continental has so much action in it that it could fill a regular action movie…and that was just the start of everything! There are numerous other fight scenes after that one that is just as good, if not better. Each has its own flavor, style, and power to it that makes you itching for the next one to start. Plus, just like my review of Parabellum noted, I was cackling with glee at the deaths that happened because it was so much fun to watch it happen.
But make no mistake, while these action sequences are incredible, they would mean much less without the dedication of the actors to pull them off. Keanu Reeves once again does all the action sequences himself, no stunt doubles, and it’s nuts all the stuff he can do. At one point, he grabs a set of nunchucks and does a taunt-style sequence with them as if to prove to the audience that he can actually wield them! That says nothing of Donnie Yen’s character, who is BLIND, and yet kicks so much butt and uses his “disability” to his advantage in more ways than you’d expect.
I have to give credit to the director and set designers and fight coordinators for laying out such majestic fight scenes and having them displayed in numerous ways to make each one feel special. One “ceiling shot” fight scene will forever stand out in my mind because of how they crafted it. Oh, and John gets a gun that shoots bullets that set people on fire, and he uses it quite a bit…and I laughed every time.
This movie will be the benchmark for how to do action sequences and action movies in general. I KNOW that if I see one that doesn’t do as well as this movie, I’ll call them out on it.
1200 words into this John Wick Chapter 4 Review, you might wonder, “is this movie getting a perfect score?” Well…no. It’s going to get close to a high score, but not a perfect one, and for a few reasons.
The first is that while I adored many of the new characters, the tactic of giving minimum backstory to help hurry to the action kind of hurt them here. For both Shimazu and Caine, we hear them refer to John Wick as a “friend” and a “brother.” Shimazu even scolds his daughter at one point because she dared to “question a man he knew longer than she’s been alive.” But how/why they had that deep of a bond isn’t made clear. Nor is it clear why Caine had such a close relationship with John that he would refer to him as a brother. It’s true that we know very little of the backstory of some of these characters, but we’ve met one-offs that had deeper backstories, like Halle Berry’s Sofia in the last movie. I really wanted to learn more about these characters, and yet we didn’t.
The second flaw is that they lean HEAVILY into the “John Wick can’t die” motif in certain fights. At the nightclub with Killa, the villain roundhouse kicks him off a ledge, where he lands square on his back on a cement pillar ten feet below, bounces off it, and then falls another ten feet onto the floor…and barely shows any pain. That should’ve killed him, and yet he was barely any worse for wear. In the Arc De Triumph car chase scene (which was freaking awesome), he gets hit by numerous cars…and yet is fine. Yes, he’s “Baba Yaga,” but it was a little much at times.
Finally, there’s the ending. I won’t spoil it. But while the teased “duel at sunrise” was so much better than I could’ve imagined, it led to the final scenes that I was both shocked and saddened by, and many will be stunned that they went a certain path. True, it could “be undone,” but the team seems to imply that a conclusion has been set in stone. Showing once again that some choices lead to permanent consequences.
Regardless of those minor flaws, let this review of John Wick Chapter 4 be an encouragement to you to see the film for yourself. If you’re a fan of Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, martial arts, epic fight scenes, or other things this franchise is known for, you’ll love this movie.
But did I love this movie? In the words of John Wick, “…yeah.”
John Wick Chapter 4 is everything an action fan can hope for and more. Keanu Reeves brings it in every way, and the rest of the cast, especially Martial Arts legend Donnie Yen, supports him to elevate this picture to an epic level of awesomeness. Though some might find the ending divisive, it brings this story which started with a car and a dog, to a satisfying end that will leave audiences in awe of what the legend of the Baba Yaga created.