A beautiful ballet of bullets riddles the screen in the jaw-dropping action spectacle John Wick: Chapter 4, which hits cinemas in Prague and worldwide this weekend. Filled with some of the best action choreography ever put to screen, this is the finest John Wick film to date and the one of the greatest action movies ever made, as long as you can get past the illogical storyline and artificial characters.
When the action spectacle is this good, however, that’s an easy sacrifice to make. John Wick: Chapter 4 really only features three action scenes, but they total more than an hour of screen time that results in a spectacular Busby Berkeley-style ballet of violence combined with eye-popping how-did-they-do-that filmmaking.
The pinnacle of the entire franchise is a sensational 40-minute action scene that traverses the streets of Paris and leaves you breathless. Last year’s The Gray Man did a respectable job of working its action into the historic streets of Prague, but the Paris sequence in John Wick: Chapter 4 completely blows it out of the water.
It includes a nighttime chase that endlessly circles the Arc de Triomphe as our titular character dodges heavies and tosses his pursuers into oncoming traffic, a bird’s-eye-view one-shot fight scene up through a Paris apartment, and a relentless combat scene up the steps behind the Sacré-Cœur that sees our hero take an astonishing tumble all the way down.
Earlier in the movie, shorter but just-as-impressive action sequences utilize an elegant Tokyo hotel and a throbbing Berlin nightclub, but the Paris scenes, highlighted by their real-world backdrop, really take the cake. All throughout, a pulsating electronic score from composer Tyler Bates and writing partner Joel J. Richard keeps our blood flowing.
There’s a story in this three-hour spectacle as well. And in fact, there’s a lot of story: a couple hours worth, more than any of the previous moves. It involves a cycle of violence as John Wick (Keanu Reeves) continues to hunt down the elders of the mysterious assassin underworld… in an effort to get them to stop hunting him down.
Meanwhile, the elders have appointed the Marquis (a delectably slimy French-accented Bill Skarsgård) to hunt down Wick. The Marquis, in turn, hires the blind swordsman Caine (Donnie Yen) and raises the bounty on Wick to attract to attention of an unnamed tracker (Shamier Anderson) with a ferocious German Shepherd.
The Marquis also takes revenge on those who have helped Wick in the past, including the owner of The Continental (Ian McShane) and his concierge (Lance Reddick), and Tokyo’s Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his daughter Akira (Rina Sawayama).
The first John Wick film was seemingly grounded in some sense of reality, but introduced an offbeat world of underground super-assassins and the mysterious and omni-present organizations that employ them. That world has grown more and more complex and unreal with each subsequent film, and by Chapter 4 the world of John Wick resembles nothing like our own, save for the backgrounds.
But that’s just fine: now entirely severed from any sense of reality, John Wick: Chapter 4 can be appreciated as pure metaphor. Don’t try to ask the film why its characters do what they do, or how they get from one location to another, or where the police are as hundreds of people are slaughtered on the streets of Paris.
Instead, appreciate this John Wick movie as a classic tale of samurai honor: it’s all about duty and obligation, and serving our masters. The world of the assassins should not be taken literally, but rather as a metaphor for authority, society, or law: Chapter 4 is about what happens when rules are broken, and when we attempt to rehabilitate ourselves in a world that does not allow for second chances.
Despite being called John Wick, Chapter 4 focuses equally on three protagonists in the vein of the Sergio Leone classic The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Reeves may be our stoic hero, but martial arts star Yen steals the movie away from him, and Anderson delivers a star-making performance as the third lead.
Unlike Leone’s classic, however, this John Wick film doesn’t give us three distinct personalities: they’re all essentially playing a variation of the same character, servants of impossible masters who attempt to reconcile honor with duty in a world of senseless violence.
Fluidly directed by Chad Stahelski, beautifully shot in a world of perpetual night by cinematographer Dan Laustsen, and deliberately paced outside of the action sequences, John Wick: Chapter 4 elevates its genre into an art form. In a medium where often-mindless action scenes cap every blockbuster movie, this one doesn’t just stand out from the pack, but completely transcends it.