Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Distributed by: Lionsgate
Written by Alexander Reams
For the past nine years, pop culture has been obsessed with “the man you send to kill the boogeyman” but in reality that was never the goal of the “John Wick” franchise. Stahelski and his team’s goal is quite simple: hire many talented martial artists and stunt performers to showcase their skills. The stunts are telling the story, and there are more reveals and insights into who John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is through his fighting than in almost any dramatic scene in the franchise.
The timeline of the franchise has been a subject of some debate, but most agree that the first three “John Wick” films take place over a period of a few weeks. “Chapter 4” is the first to have a larger gap of time between films, with John having fully recovered from his severe injuries at the end of “Chapter 3.” This allows some–and by some, I mean maybe five minutes–breathing room that was needed before embarking on the largest film of the franchise. “Chapter 4” feels like a culmination of everything Reeves and Stahelski set out to accomplish back in 2014. Each film feels fresh due to the team finding new ways of choreographing, lighting, shooting, and blocking its many action sequences. These taught style controls allow each set piece to remain coherent while balancing story, emotion, and characters that flesh out the world.
“Chapter 4” continues the franchise trend of introducing striking new characters, the lead of which is Caine (Donnie Yen). Caine is a blind assassin bound to the High Table who is also a close friend of John’s. This complicates things for both of them when they are pitted against each other by the Marquis de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård), a member of the High Table who dresses like an anime villain. Skarsgård is hamming it up in every scene he’s in, but he fits into the absurd world that has been laid out. It’s not too far-fetched to believe that one of the heads of a super-powerful criminal organization would just lounge around at museums and bring a gold coffee machine wherever he goes. Separately hunting John is Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson), a tracker who is waiting for the contract on him to be at the right price, in the process helping Wick survive the onslaught of attacks.
The action of “Chapter 4” is easily the best of the franchise, every sequence is outdone by the next, culminating in a staircase fight that will be studied by filmmakers for years. The environment of every fight is laid out immaculately by cinematographer Dan Laustsen, returning for the third time to the franchise and his fluid camerawork that has been evolving during his first two outings culminates here as well, moving in and out of rooms with brilliant precision and focus pulling to great effect.
The first act includes a massive setpiece in Osaka that focuses on the Osaka-based Continental, run by Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his daughter Akira (Rina Sawayama). John visits Koji for refuge, but Gramont’s men arrive and make quick work of the bystander guests and defensive forces of the hotel. The fights during this sequence don’t include as many long takes as you’ll find later in the film but the wides that Laustsen employs during Caine and Koji’s fight splendidly lay out the terrain in a manner that allows for the camera to move around them and still allow the fight to be coherent and entertaining. The second setpiece revolves around a nightclub in Berlin, run by a mobster named Killa (Scott Adkins), who is a target of Mr. Wick. Before any bullets fly, Nobody, Killa, Caine, and Wick all sit at a table and play a game, sucking the air out of the room and filling the audience with tension until the fighting starts.
The finale is Stahelski’s forte, controlled insanity. The response that Gramont has to John’s challenge to a duel (for his freedom) is to place an insanely high bounty on his head and let the killers of Paris do the work for him, making his drive to the dueling site a bit tumultuous. Did I say a bit? How about impossible, for nearly 40 minutes there is non-stop shooting, hand-to-hand combat, and car chases, including a sequence involving dragons’ breath shotgun shells. It’s a sight to behold, and Laustsen lets his camera loose, using a top shot to showcase all the carnage going on in each room at the same time. Stahelski has made an epic. If there were ever a film to make the greatest case possible for a stunt category at the Oscars, “John Wick: Chapter 4” would be that film.
“John Wick: Chapter 4” Trailer