John Wick: Chapter 4 – Film Review
The Uesugi Kenshin quote, ‘Those who cling to life, die and those who defy death, live’ is an embedded philosophy pervading the John Wick franchise. The Japanese military leader’s quote’s relationship with war, life and death epitomises the central themes surrounding John Wick as a retired assassin seeking a better life whilst tackling grief. Despite being an action-packed franchise, there are glimpses of emotion, aside from fury and revenge, to provide a multi-faceted plot with sufficient nuance to make this assassin seem endearing. John Wick: Chapter 4 continues directly after the events of Chapter 3 – Parebellum, but, impressively, the familiar tenets underpinning these John Wick films become more ambitious with each film, and that’s without considering the longer runtime. The film re-creates the sensation of visiting a long lost friend albeit with a high octane, glitzy but self-reflective outing for John Wick crossing international terrain whilst he is the most hunted man worldwide with a multi million-dollar bounty contract over his head. John Wick: Chapter 4 is a stylish, spectacular film imbued with humour and stunning gung-fu fight sequences. Different in tone to its predecessors, the film does not take its foot off the brakes as it races alongside John in this ultimately thrilling fight for his freedom, and his soul, no matter the price.
John Wick (Keanu Reeves) seems weary, understandably, as the stakes become higher in his ongoing battle against a toxic workplace aka The High Table. Many will resonate with that fatigue of having the proverbial carrot dangling on a stick, all John effectively wants is his freedom, which comes at a high price given that he is a renowned killing machine known as ‘The Boogeyman’. His peers are unwilling to permit him to escape, once he re-surfaced in vengeance, and are thus complicit in a sinister, shadowy working environment relying on such sacrifices to ensure its own survival. The difference on this occasion is John’s confident decision to confront the toxic challenges rather than merely seeking to maintain his peace. It is an interesting psychological dynamic as his associates and so-called friends seek to draw him back in to the darker recesses of humanity seemingly to distract from his judgement of their own sinister activities. Despite this underworld’s surface level old-school rules and rituals, within sophisticated hotels and religious institutions, there is rivalry, power grabbing and resentment underneath, which, one could argue, makes these individuals indistinguishable from the animalistic behaviour they believe disorder accentuates.
This echoes similar sentiments of isolationism and factions explored in the Christopher Nolan Batman film trilogy, not least with both characters’ penchant for bullet proof suits, monosyllabic words, and their brooding, superhero-esque sense of invincibility against adversity and toxic environments to overcome. That essence of a tortured soul shines through the psyche of both characters alongside the concept of the fate of humanity resting firmly on the shoulders of just one man. Parallels can therefore also be drawn to spy dramas such as James Bond and the Mission: Impossible films as John Wick travels outside of the US leaving a trail of destruction in his wake, with long take captivating fight sequences, impossible feats and the beginnings of a loyal team establishing John Wick as their figurehead and talisman. Scenes in Jordan also embrace Western film gun toting battle tropes and propel this concept of John personifying the ultimate saviour. Still, it is undeniably enjoyable to sit back and watch the mesmerising images of Reeves on horseback galloping through the desert, whilst pausing for some pistol slinging action, during the film’s lighter moments. The one criticism remains that Chapter 4 is a tad overlong.
Director Chad Stahelski casts a nod, however, to The Matrix with that reunion of Neo and Morpheus in their reincarnated forms of John and The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburn). There are several other elements of The Matrix evident as the John Wick films have a 90s film aura, also reminiscent of Blade, which created fashionable trends and iconic characters. In Chapter 4, there are some iconic characters introduced notably Hiroyuki Sanada’s Shimazu, the owner of the Osaka branch of the Continental Hotel, in a more satisfying role than Bullet Train and the effortlessly cool sunglasses wearing Donnie Yen. But, at its core, John Wick remains a tale of loyalty, grief and friendship.
Stahelski allows the emotional expansion of John Wick’s character to thrilling effect within chapter 4. John embraces the modernity of his surroundings and the art world is continuously showcased revealing its interaction with the underworld. However, the emphasis remains on deeds not words and Stahelski lets the electric fight sequences do the talking combined with stunning cinematography in keeping with chapter 3’s thread.
Still, there is a gamification element too, with birds’ eye view shots, as John races to complete his mission and others race to stop him, in plain sight, to collect their bounty prize. We shall never stop hoping to be the best version of ourselves and this is a reverberating message in John Wick: Chapter 4. The John Wick franchise’s iconic elements continue to entertain and this film is an explosively exciting reason why. Plus, it features another dog and the recent passing of Lance Riddick, Charon the concierge, add to its emotional appeal thereby leaving that imprint that few blockbusters successfully achieve.