This article includes spoilers for “John Wick: Chapter 4.”
John Wick has returned for the fourth, and potentially final, installment in the mainline franchise (save for a few planned spinoffs). The film has earned widespread praise, with some even calling it “one of the greatest action movies ever made.”
This film, like the others in the series, is praised for its thrilling and innovative action sequences, creating a cinematic experience whose straightforward narrative is conveyed through fisticuffs and bullet wounds. Compared to the first three installments, “Chapter 4″ expands these action scenes to be not only longer, but also grander in scale.
One of the ways director Chad Stahelski does this is by recognizing that an action set piece is only as good as the environment it takes place in. Nearly every action sequence is placed in a unique space, and the setting becomes a character within the choreography.
The first major action scenes take place in the Osaka Continental, a neon-colored luxury hotel filled with glass artwork and samurai relics. Wick kills a man by repeatedly bludgeoning and shooting him against a taiko drum, and as glass cases shatter, more weapons become available in his arsenal.
In the final act, Wick finds himself fighting his way through traffic at the Arc de Triomphe. He and the hitman extras are constantly being hit by oncoming traffic while they also utilize their vehicles to battle each other in creative ways. In one instance, Wick drives a car in circles with the doors torn off while shooting at a group of hitmen.
Of course, one of the most memorable moments near the end is the long march up to the Sacré-Coeur Basilica. As he fights his way up the hundreds of stairs, the audience feels the clock ticking, and the slow climb to the top as Wick battles assassin after assassin. In a mind-blowing stunt, Wick is wounded and tumbles down all 300 steps, and finds himself at the bottom once more.
This is only topped by an incredible sequence where Wick fights his way through an apartment building wielding Dragon’s Breath ammo that practically vaporizes his targets. The twist in this scene, however, is the top-down camerawork that turns the whole battle into a mouse in a maze. Stahelski cites the video game “Hong Kong Massacre” as the biggest influence on this scene, and the creative camerawork coupled with flashing gunfire create a jaw-dropping cinematic experience.
The film finds a way to cram every style of action imaginable into its runtime. While the classic “John Wick” gun and fistfights are back, the introduction of the Japanese yakuza also brings in sword fights, archery and even sumo wrestling into the fold. There are car chases, Keanu Reeves with nunchucks, and Shamier Anderson’s Mr. Nobody even gets to sick his dog onto enemies a la “Metal Gear Solid V.”
To top it all off, the intense action throughout the whole film ends with a climactic duel, the quiet, but suspenseful tradition used to settle disagreements dating back centuries. It is a stark contrast to the rest of the film, allowing the audience to catch their breath while staying on their toes to see how the conflict comes to a head.
These distinct modes of action are all conveyed through its impressive cast. “Chapter 4″ unites martial arts legends and newcomers alike to chew scenery and give incredible, unique action performances.
With Reeves at the forefront, he is now joined by Donnie Yen as Caine. This is not the first time the Hong Kong star played the role of the blind warrior, but it may be one of the more creative uses of that archetype. Armed with doorbells to alert his hearing, he battles beautifully with cane and pistol in a style that feels slightly clumsy, yet ever so precise. That freeform style of action becomes a signature of Caine and serves as a contrast to Wick’s more animalistic tendencies.
Meanwhile, Hiroyuki Sanada and Rina Sawayama serve as a powerful father-daughter duo, with Sanada having the chance to play the old friend and loving father, but also the stern and focused warrior, fighting with sword and gun. Sawayama on the other hand, makes her acting debut in a role that highlights her action chops. Armed with a bow and arrow, she shoots, clubs and even uses her arrows to “climb” a man while he is down.
Scott Adkins was one of the biggest surprises for the film. The chiseled martial artist shocked fans when his teaser poster revealed that he would be donning a fat suit to play the role of Killa. The result is a character with the air of a cartoon villain coupled with an intimidating and imposing figure. According to Stahelski, Killa’s character is a direct homage to the great Sammo Hung, the Hong Kongese pioneer in martial arts cinema. The reddish-purple suit he wears is even inspired by Hung’s character in the film “SPL: Kill Zone,” where he faces off against Donnie Yen.
It is with all of these characters that the film is one of the more personal installments of the series. Although few words are spoken throughout all the noise, it provides enough personal investment into Wick and his relationship with this underworld that audiences stay engaged.
This is the first film in the series where the primary hitman is someone rooted in Wick’s history. The rivalry between Wick and Caine holds weight because they are both worth rooting for despite their competing interests. What keeps viewers going is the thought of how they can find a third path where both of them can reach their own peace.
The “action star,” much like other types of movie stars, has become less relevant as time continues and the industry becomes saturated with IP blockbusters and superhero movies. The “John Wick” franchise stands on its own as an original story led by an actor who can sell with his face and real-life charm.
“Chapter 4″ is a fitting send off to the character but sets the stage for more original action films in the future. With at least two spinoffs on the way, Stahelski and his team are not finished just yet. In the meantime, other filmmakers have taken notes, as the trope of the retired killer returning for revenge has become a popular story to tell in films like “Nobody.”
Although “Chapter 4″ draws on everything from Buster Keaton to Hong Kong cinema to even recent video games, it creates an identity of its own as a defining work of the action genre, all led by a man who can command the screen with a simple “yeah.”
“John Wick: Chapter 4″ is currently available in theaters.