The success of John Wick in 2014 launched an unlikely franchise. For Keanu Reeves, it pushed him back into the spotlight after too long away from it. The “Gun-Fu” style influenced the genre for the next decade. Chad Stahelski got a chance to jump in the director’s chair. Now, for the first time in four years, the Baba Yaga returns to theaters. The latest adventure, John Wick: Chapter 4, raises the stakes while delivering a handful of incredible new characters to the franchise.
After recovering from his gunshot in John Wick: Parabellum, the assassin returns to action. However, the High Table keeps a mark on his head, and he remains “excomunicado.” The ambitious Marquis de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård) takes control of the High Table. He promises to kill Wick and make an example of anyone who helps him. He also sends two new assassins after him: Caine (Donnie Yen) and The Tracker/Mr. Nobody (Shamir Anderson).
John Wick: Chapter 4 delivers the longest runtime of the franchise but uses that time to expand its set pieces. Stahelski stretches the franchise known for incredible action sequences, building them on top of each other to multiple crescendos. The story remains light and easy to follow, allowing John Wick: Chapter 4 to feel wildly experimental as an acting showcase.
Reeves remains great and potentially delivers the least dialogue of any of the Wick films to date. He takes the shape of an old western gunman, allowing his physicality and skill to speak for him. He often cedes the floor to his costars. As a result, this feels like the most complete ensemble in the series.
Surprisingly no one, Yen steals the show. He continues to showcase his incredible skill set as a martial arts performer. Yet he brings a tremendous amount of heart to his performance. Where Yen truly takes it to the next level in the respect he pays other performers. There’s a meta nature to his role, showing his incredible chemistry with the friends he’s made in the industry.
Anderson does surprise. He holds his own with everyone on screen, never failing to live up to the moment. Anderson steals the film during several scenes and quickly becomes a fan favorite. Anderson’s charm and zeal make him easy to root for, and his shifting allegiances put the audience in a bit of a bind. It’s a star-making supporting role, and we would love to see him headline his own franchise in the near future.
Another aspect that helps John Wick: Chapter 4 stand out are the number of villains populating the world. Skarsgård plays up the spoiled nature of his character, and the “untouchable” arrogance comes through. While he dons an accent, he does not transform like others. However, he does provide a hate-worthy villain for the actions he takes. Additionally, Scott Adkins takes a dive into the river of ham, chewing through the scenary every time the camera turns its attention to him. It’s an amazing performance and make a huge impression on the film.
Hiroyuki Sanada and Rina Sawayama take over a set piece set in Osaka. Their charisma radiates off the screen, even before they join the melee. Sanada brings his usual gravitas, and Sawayama challenges Anderson for the title of the top newcomer. Her physical takedowns of several enemies astounds. Yet the death glances she delivers toward Wick and others show a ferocity in her character. Juxtaposed with her distrust of others is her adoration of Sanada’s character. Having a character that can play so many levels speaks to her versatility as an actress.
Stahlenski allows cinematographer Dan Laustsen to really lay on the western visuals. Silhouettes are used throughout the film, as well as raves lighting, neons, and strobes. A set piece in a “water club” uses rain effects to distort light. They even incorporate Dragon’s Breath to light a scene. The incorporation of the effects into the lighting schemes really helps showcase the work.
John Wick: Chapter 4 might be a little long, but when it is fun, there are few films that can compete with its magnetism. Reeves shows why he’s one of the best genre actors in the world and pours his heart and soul into a soft-spoken performance. Combined with Stahelski’s fight sequences, this is sure to become a highly rewatched, often quoted classic.