John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)

Rating: A-

Dir: Chad Stahelski
Star: Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Ian McShane, Bill Skarsgård

If this is indeed the end of John Wick as far as Keanu Reeves is concerned, it’s a more than fitting epitaph. It drops an exclamation point on the end of the sentence – as well as a few asterisks, a square bracket and whatever this § character is supposed to be. It probably should be the end, because I just can’t see any significant room for improvement. The plot sees Wick (Reeves) seeking a way out, while being hunted by… Well, just about everyone from New York to Japan, most notably the Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Skarsgård), who has control of John’s old pal, blind master assassin, Caine (Yen). Wick has his allies too, most notably manager of the Continental, Winston Scott (McShane).

At two hours and 49 minutes long, this is the Gone With the Wind of gratuitous violence. Going in, I was concerned whether it was going to be able to sustain itself for that long. I needn’t have worried, because it certainly doesn’t feel as long as, oh, Cloud Atlas or The Hateful Eight. For it simply gets everything right. Every character you encounter is interesting: rather than Caine simply being an antagonist, Stahelski takes the time to set him up as a man, who desperately wants out of the business, but cannot leave, because he knows that would imperil his daughter: I’d love to see a spin-off there. Or there’s Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada), manager of the Continental in Osaka and his daughter Akira (Rina Sawayama): scope there further exploration too, as a post-credit sequence suggests. And, of course, the poignant presence of the late Lance Reddick.

The other area where this is phenomenal, is the look of the film. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen has made what is probably the best-looking action movie of all time. Regardless of location, from the neon-drenched streets of Japan or the ancient churches of Paris, everything looks amazing. His work reaches a peak in what may be the most striking single shot in the genre’s history, where the film effectively moves into top-down shooter mode for an extended, single shot. It’s like John Wick is playing Grnnd Theft Auto on the Playstation 1, with all the mayhem that implies. Side-note: whoever makes Dragon’s Breath ammo – which is exactly what it sounds like – should prepare themselves for a run on their product.

Which brings me to the action in general. About the only flaw I can find is, the CGI on some of the falls was ropey. Jackie Chan would have done that shit for realz. Otherwise though? Awesome, from beginning to end. And by beginning, I mean the assault on the Osaka Continental, which might perhaps have been the best of the entire film for me, showcasing a breathtaking array of styles and approaches, from gun-fu through samurai swordplay, to hard-core martial arts. This isn’t to knock the other set-pieces, which would be candidates for scene of the year anywhere else. Of course, need to mention Keanu’s fight against Scott Adkins. In a fat suit. With a German accent. It’s as insane as it sounds, yet is played utterly straight, like everything else here. I lost count of the number of times I literally LOL’d at the insanity of it all.

It’s a combination of all these elements which elevates Chapter 4 to the stratosphere. There have been films with great action. There have been films that looked good. There have been films which make an emotional contact with the viewer. But I am very hard-pushed to think of many which managed all elements of that Triple Crown. Return of the King might have been the last such, and that was twenty years ago. After an extended period where the joy of cinema going has been diminished, this was the best experience I’ve had in a very long time.

This review is part of Project Adkins, covering the movies of Scott Adkins.