Producers: Basil Iwanyk, Erica Lee and Chad Stahelski Director: Chad Stahelski Screenplay: Shay Hatten and Michael Finch Cast: Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgård, Laurence Fishburne, Hiroyuki Sanada, Shamier Anderson, Lance Reddick, Rina Sawayama, Scott Adkins, Clancy Brown, Ian McShane, George Georgiou, Marko Zaror and Natalia Tena Distributor: Lionsgate
Viewers who have savored the myriad dishes of stylish carnage served up in the previous movies of the John Wick series will no doubt rejoice at the chance to gorge on the prolonged feast provided by this fourth installment. One action set-piece after another is trotted out in a seemingly endless splurge of colorfully choreographed comic-book violence designed to stun the senses and keep the adrenaline flowing, interrupted by expository scenes in which the increasingly complex “rules” of the Wickian universe are laid out, old characters are welcomed back and new ones introduced and flashbacks occur to remind us of things past, all accompanied by hokey sentiment or bursts of juvenile humor. The result is a nearly three-hour orgy of mayhem that’s flashy, raucous, brainless and as nutritious as a Twinkie. But fans will eat it up and, like Oliver Twist, ask for more. Others might feel not just glutted by the excess but somewhat nauseated by it.
For those not up-to-date on their John Wick history, the protagonist is a legendary hit-man roused from retirement by violence perpetrated against him, his dog and his car in the first, and easily best, installment. A glum, world-worn, laconic fellow despondent over the loss of his beloved wife (Bridget Moynihan), he’s gotten his revenge and survived, but at the cost of crossing The High Table, the organization of assassins to which he belonged and being excommunicated from its membership, the price on his head making him a lucrative target for all the other murderers in the age-old outfit.
Eliminating Wick is now the particular obsession of the new COO of the High Table, the preening, effetely French Marquis de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård), especially after Wick kills The Elder (George Georgiou), the only man above the Table (whatever that means) in the movie’s first set-piece in the desert of Morocco. The Marquis tasks Caine (Donnie Yen), a blind assassin as legendary as Wick, to take on the mission, despite the fact that Caine is an old comrade-in-arms of John; he agrees to the assignment only to protect his daughter, a violin prodigy, from possible harm.
But Caine is not the only hunter on Wick’s case. A great mass of Table associates lust after the bounty put on him, including the enigmatic Tracker, aka Nobody (Shamier Anderson), whose partner is a well-trained Belgian Malinois as much treasured by him as Wick’s canines have been by their owner. The Marquis’ loyal lieutenant Chidi (Marko Zaror) is no slouch, either.
But Wick has a few allies. One is Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada), the manager of the Osaka Continental, a Table safe house, who gives him shelter despite the misgivings of his daughter Akira (Rina Sawayama). Another is the seemingly unflappable Winston Scott (Ian McShane), the manager of the New York Continental whose hotel is literally demolished because of the special treatment he accorded Wick in the last picture. And there’s the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), the erstwhile crime lord who’s been a sardonic helper to Wick since Chapter 2.
Eventually Wick’s chances of survival come down to his being able to arrange (and reach the location of) a duel with the Marquis (or more properly his champion Caine). But that requires his being accepted back into his old Ruska Roma family now headed by Katia (Natalia Tena), who agrees only if he takes down Killa (Scott Adkins), head of the Berlin High Table. Even after he succeeds Wick must evade hordes of assassins in Paris in order to reach the Basilica of Sacré Coeur de Montmartre, which requires ascending a staircase of more than two hundred steps against a gauntlet of killers, including Chidi—a feat he’ll need to accomplish not once but twice. (Thankfully, he gets some unexpected help.) The duel caps things; naturally it proceeds in a fashion designed to ratchet up tension and end in a surprising fashion.
Reeves grunts his way through each stage of the narrative, and shows considerable dexterity in the avalanche of action scenes, which are all choreographed extravagantly by stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski and his team in locales lavishly rendered by production designer Kevin Kavanaugh and shot with abandon by cinematographer Dan Lausten; but inevitably some of them (like the Osaka brouhaha) come across as reminiscent of sequences from earlier installments in the series, and one of them—involving lots of vehicular traffic around the Arc de Triomph—is awfully messy, the visual effects not quite up to the task of keeping things clear.
There are exceptions, though. The ascent of the stone stairway at the end is impressively thought-out (though one imagines that it could have been made cheekier if the thundering score by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard had been replaced with a recording of Stanley Holloway singing “Get Me to the Church on Time”), and one complex shoot-out, viewed from above, is especially intricate even if largely effects-based. Even those sequences, however, are overextended, a failing that certainly afflicts the face-off in a wild nightclub with Adkins, encased in a fat suit and outfitted with gold teeth that make him virtually unrecognizable. Nonetheless editor Nathan Orloff does his best to keep the movements comprehensible.
Apart from impassive Reeves, the cast go through their paces efficiently, though Skarsgård is a pretty dull villain. McShane and Fishburne have their roles down pat by now, with the former’s aplomb particularly engaging, and Anderson makes an auspicious debut as a character fans will certainly want to see again—along with his dog. Among the rest Yen carries his celebrated MMA mantel with humor and grace, while Lance Reddick is typically suave as Charon, the Continental New York’s concierge; his final scene carries special poignancy given his recent death.
It’s obvious from “Chapter 4” (including add-ons in the final credits) that the ground is prepared not merely for further sequels, but for spin-offs, whether in the form of features or streaming series, or probably both. Let’s just hope the multiverse will not get involved.