John Wick: Chapter 4 review – Too much of a very good thing

Keanu Reeves in a still from John Wick Chapter 4.Lionsgate

John Wick returns in a sequel that’s both bigger and longer than its predecessors. But while the action is still as scintillating as anything Hollywood has ever produced, that bloated runtime suggests maybe you can have too much of a good thing.

The first John Wick – like the title character – was a lean, mean, killing machine; one that told the story of a man avenging the death of his dog in simple but incredibly effective fashion.

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It was followed by a sequel that expanded the universe by introducing new traditions and new characters, while never losing sight of what makes these movies work.

Chapter 3 built out the world yet further, but got bogged down in rules and regulations so that, come the end of the movie, it was hard to grasp exactly who and what John was fighting for. Making the job of this new movie to get the franchise back on track, which it does. Kind-of.

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“You ready John?”

When last we saw John he was being shot by Continental Manager Winston (Ian McShane) and rescued by the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), with whom he agreed to bring down the High Table.

When we first see John here, he’s punching a block of wood with a bloody fist. “You ready?” asks the Bowery King. “Yeah,” comes Wick’s response.

As a man of few words, that’s all he needs to say. But this being a John Wick movie, some form of ceremony is required. So inexplicably, the Bowery King sets the floor on fire, a potential health and safety nightmare, but one that looks very cool. Which is often the logic in these films, frequently for better. But sometimes for worse.

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Once Upon a Time in Morocco

The movie then appears to start proper with John journeying to Morocco to chase henchmen on horseback before dealing with the Elder (here played by George Georgiou).

But the reason for this scene seems to be so director Chad Stahelski can scratch a Sergio Leone itch, shooting wide-open vistas and framing a standoff in blazing sunlight before the franchise returns to darkness and shadow. All of which looks cool. But again, doesn’t feel entirely necessary.

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The pace then slows, and Wick disappears, so new threads and characters can be introduced. Even through the central through-line remains the same – John broke the rules, so John must be killed.

New heroes and villains

The villain overseeing this latest iteration of the High Table operation is The Marquis, played by Bill Skarsgård, who chews on scenery (and cake) as he orders hits from an opulent Parisienne palace. The Marquis believes John has committed atrocities, and pollutes everything he touches, so like his predecessors, the Marquis puts out the call.

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First to answer to – not entirely voluntarily – is blind assassin Caine, played by action legend Donnie Yen. Though Caine has a history with John, one that at times turns him into a mirror image of the title character. While that past also makes his motivations ever-more-complex as proceedings progress.

Less interesting is another hitman who enters fray – the Tracker, played by Shamier Anderson. Though he’s also known as Mr. Nobody. And much like that indecision over his name, it feels like writers Shay Hatten and Michael Finch didn’t know what to do with the character. So Nobody becomes a somewhat pointless presence who adds little to Chapter 4 beyond bringing with him a cool dog.

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John Wick’s globetrotting adventure

Once the High Table’s table has been set, John reappears in a Continental Hotel in Osaka, where all hell soon breaks loose. During which we’re reminded what makes these films so special.

With reception bathed in green neon, a war is fought on the grounds, one that starts out brutal. Then turns beautiful when Wick gets his hands on a set of nun chucks, and the camera bobs and weaves around him as John kills and kills again.

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It’s also fascinating to see Cain use a combination of tactics and tools to make up for his lack of sight, most notably when he utilises a trio of doorbells censors to locate his assailants. The moment highlighting the kind of creativity that sets John Wick movies apart from all pretenders to their crown.

However, just when the movie is motoring, the writers throw in a side-quest, featuring side-characters and side-ceremonies that seriously slow proceedings down.

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So John travels to Berlin to join a family, mend his ticket, win a crest, complete an impossible task – again – and do battle with bad guys in the kind of nightclub that feels like it’s featured in every John Wick movie thus far. The action, eventually, makes its way to Paris however, and that’s where our hero’s journey truly takes flight.

An American in Paris

The extended climax of John Wick: Chapter 4 really has to be seen to be believed. The film does a tour of iconic French locations, including Sacré-Coeur Basilica, the Arc de Triomphe, and the 222 steps of the Rue Foyatier.

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Each set-piece brings something new to action cinema, through tension, spectacle, and increasingly imaginative kills. With a standout sequence involving characters being shot from above, like the most violent 8-bit video game ever made.

Keanu Reeves is immense throughout these battles, delivering punishing blows, taking punishing falls, and managing to look cool and collected throughout, as befits the character.

But credit should also go to former stuntman Staahelski and his technical team team for the way they stage, frame, and light these sequences. And the incredible stunt team who perform them, putting their bodies on the line to deliver five-star action time after time.

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The Verdict – Is John Wick: Chapter 4 good?

Trouble is, all the nonsense that surrounds that action makes it less than a five-star movie. There are times when it feels like Chapter 4 might get back-to-basics, focussing on Caine’s pursuit of John at the behest of the Marquis in the service of a tight 90-minute movie.

But the makers of these movies are just too concerned with the larger John Wick world. So we’re suddenly at a card table with Scott Adkins in a plus-sized bodysuit, watching him laugh for what feels like an eternity. For no real discernible reason.

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It’s superfluous story for superfluous characters that sometimes prevents man and movie from being as mean and lean as they should be. While that time could be better served exploring both John’s purpose, and his guilt, as more and more friends get killed in service of saving him.

But while that doesn’t happen to any meaningful extend, the three sequences that conclude Chapter 4 are so spectacular that you can forgive the shortcomings of what’s come before.

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John Wick: Chapter 4 review score: 4/5

Chapter 4 proves you can have too much of a good thing. But when that thing is this good, a few misfires are forgivable.

For more John Wick: Chapter 4 coverage, check out the below articles…

Review | Is John Wick true? | Killa explained | Ranking the movies | Is there a post-credits scene? | Marquis explained | Ballerina cameo | How long is Chapter 4? | Caine explained | Potential Chapter 5 | What happens to Charon? | 13 Best John Wick kills | Post-credit scene explained | Does the dog die? | Keanu Reeves on emotional ending | Is Chapter 5 streaming? | Movies to watch if you like JW | Will there be a Chapter 5?

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