Not even the Wickiverse can escape the clutches of inflation. The bounty on the head of John Wick (Keanu Reeves) starts at $20 million and only climbs. As I watched him take down goon after henchman after thug, I came to realize this number doesn’t represent the value of having him dead. It’s a guesstimate of how much money each would-be assassin thinks would even the odds enough for him (always a dude) to take a shot at the Baba Yaga — and often, it’s the only shot he’ll get off.

This is the attitude of Nobody (Shamier Anderson), a tracker who keeps one eye on John’s health and the other on the ever-rising bounty. Also, he has a German shepherd. In a franchise sparked by the death of a dog, you know that’s going to be important later.

We go to see Chad Stahelski’s John Wick films (with characters created by Derek Kolstad) for the action, but over the course of the second (2017) and third (2019) installments, the storyworld also allures; I’ve always felt that the series borrows liberally from Constantine (2005), another Reeves vehicle. John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum may have felt bogged down in worldbuilding, but it all pays off in John Wick: Chapter 4 (written by Shay Hatten and Michael Finch). All the groundwork having been laid, the story this time is simple, almost linear: John needs to get somewhere before time runs out, and he kills anyone who objects.

The plot evokes that of a shoot ’em up video game, except that no game I can imagine would give the player as many combat move options as John seems to know. He’s praised for his martial skill, but it takes real learning to be able to deploy his body and assorted weapons like that. Remember how he kills someone with a book in Parabellum? Here, like Tom Cruise encountering a brand new type of vehicle, John shows himself to be a master of the nunchucks. Forget about the balletic swinging of Bruce Lee; these nunchucks are used as the angular momentum–enhanced clubs they are.

They appear in the first of four huge fight sequences (coordinated by Scott Rogers), the first being set at the Osaka Continental, managed by John’s old friend, Shimazu (Sanada Hiroyuki), with the help of his concierge and daughter, Akira (Rina Sawayama, whose brief but highly effective turn is akin to Ana de Armas’s in 2021’s No Time to Die). And I do mean all of the Continental, from the foyer to the kitchens to the neon-lit hall of samurai art, all the way up to the rooftop.

All the fight sequences are sprawling, lengthy affairs, mostly due to the presence of more significant heavies than before. The High Table that rules the assassin world has granted unlimited authority for John’s removal to one Marquis de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård, in a French accent walking the line between decadent and effeminate), and he in turn deploys right hand man Chidi (Marko Zaror) and conscripts Caine (a louche Donnie Yen — yes, he does the Wing Chun thing at one point), who’s a sightless retired sword-cane-(get it?)-wielding assassin and another of John’s old friends. There’s also Killa, played by Scott Adkins in probably the only good use of a fatsuit, as it results in the thrillingly paradoxical combination of an out-of-shape kingpin fighting like an MMA champion.



Keanu Reeves as John Wick in John Wick 4.

I adore how the Marquis is brought down by his own hubris, from his very first act to his very last. He’s young, energetic, and ambitious. Unfortunately, the film he’s in sides with the old, tired, and almost-retired. Like the other two currently major Western action franchise heroes (counting Tom Cruise as a franchise character), John feels every fight in his bones. He may answer Winston’s (Ian McShane) query of, “When will it end?” with, “When I’ve killed them all,” but when he’s offered an out, he takes it.

It’s just that there are three more fight scenes between him and the exit. In an improvement over the previous two installments, Reeves does less of the judo that shows his age and leads to unconvincing deaths in favor of more shooting, stabbing, punching, and strangling — and vehicular homicide, as he fights off droves of attackers in the middle of the nighttime traffic speedily circling the Arc de Triomphe.

He also falls and tumbles a lot. The cartoonish laws (or “laws”) of physics hinted at in the final fall of Parabellum get fully exploited here, as John’s kevlar suit seems also to have a cushion function that calls to mind the parachute function of Robert Langdon’s (Tom Hanks) suit in Angels and Demons (2009). This is useful when he finds himself tumbling down the 222 steps at the side of the Sacré Cœur de Montmartre. At the top of those steps lies his exit, and to get there from Osaka, John relies on the help of friends and family. When a foe reminds one such friend that John has proffered no marker of blood debt to honor, the friend retorts that the foe has a very blinkered view of debt. Who knew the Wickiverse was a (murderous) utopia?

My favorite fight sequence, and the one I think most cinematically beautiful, is the second half of the streets of Paris sequence, when John runs into an abandoned two-story house. As Reeves moves from room to room shooting stuntpeople, the camera drones (in the old days we would say “cranes”) into an overhead one-shot, like a practical version of the Aquaman (2018) prologue fight. Without a ceiling to work with, the scene is lit by cinematographer Dan Laustsen entirely with streetlights through windows, table lamps, flashlights of the fallen, shots of dragon’s breath (bullets modified to spit flames) from both John and his foes, and the fire of bodies engulfed therein.

Maybe you’ve heard the film is 169 minutes long. If you hop onto its semi-self-parodically overserious wavelength (a hilariously long dolly shot in the Louvre comes to mind), the time flies by like a bullet.

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TNL Editor: Bryan Chou (@thenewslensintl)

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