Last November, filmmaker Quentin Tarantino made headlines when he claimed that Hollywood has become “Marvelized”, meaning that the franchise characters, rather than the actors who play them, are the stars. I think there’s a lot of truth to that, and we’ve already seen it in the parade of actors who have played Batman over the years. (Yes, I know he’s a DC character but it applies here too.) I take a different approach to the meaning of “Marvelization” though. To me, it means a bloated story but one that is entertaining nevertheless. That is what we have with JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4.
The latest installment of the franchise takes place not long after the events of JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM. While hiding under the streets of New York City with the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne, THE ICE ROAD), John (Keanu Reeves) plots his revenge on the High Table. His travels take him to Morocco, Osaka, Berlin and finally Paris, where he comes face-to-face with the Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård, BARBARIAN; the IT films), a ruthless member of the High Table who would like nothing more than to see John killed so that his position in the shadowy organization can be cemented. The Marquis, in the meantime, has been busy exacting his own vengeance on John’s friends, including Winston (Ian McShane, DEADWOOD: THE MOVIE) and Charon (the late Lance Reddick, GODZILLA VS. KONG), the manager and concierge respectively of the New York Continental Hotel, and Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada, BULLET TRAIN; MORTAL KOMBAT) and Akira (singer-songwriter Rina Sawayama), the manager and concierge respectively of the Osaka Continental Hotel. He also brings High Table assassin and Wick’s old friend, Caine (Donnie Yen, SAKRA; COME BACK HOME), back from retirement, telling him that if he kills John, he and his daughter can finally live in peace. Winston informs John that if he challenges the Marquis to a duel, he can be released from his obligation to the High Table but first he must get back into his former crime family. To do that, he makes a deal with his adoptive sister Katia (Natalia Tena, the HARRY POTTER franchise) to kill her enemy, Killa (a fat-suited Scott Adkins, IP MAN 4: THE FINALE). Fighting off throngs of assassins who are out to collect the multimillion-dollar bounty on John’s head as well as a mysterious tracker dubbed “Mr. Nobody” (Shamier Anderson, RACE), John makes his way to Sacré-Coeur where the duel is set to take place at dawn. The Marquis, though, has named someone to be his proxy.
If that seems like a lot of plot, that’s the short version. With its butt-numbing, 169-minute running time, JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4 covers a lot of ground and much of it is world-building, probably in preparation for the next JW film, entitled BALLERINA, which is currently in post-production. This spin-off film stars Ana de Armas as Rooney, the would-be assassin introduced in JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM, and the events are supposed to take place between JW3 and JW4. For now, though, JW4 could easily have been trimmed by 30 minutes, hence my comparison to a MARVEL film. It even has a post-credit scene.
Where JW4 succeeds, though, is in its choreography and this is what JOHN WICK fans love about the franchise. Director Chad Stahelski, himself a former stuntman, not only knows his craft well, he also knows how to film it. All too often with action films, the fight scenes are either edited to death or the director uses a shaky camera technique to simulate the action. There is none of that here and, in fact, the set pieces are often exceptionally long takes of hand-to-hand combat and gunplay. It’s truly like watching a ballet unfold on screen. Reeves, at 58 (okay, he was 56 when the film was shot), has lost none of his agility and more than holds his own against professional martial artists like Adkins and Yen, and Chilean actor Marko Zaror, who plays the Marquis’ right-hand man, Chidi. Franchise veterans McShane and Reddick are also a pleasure to watch with their deadpan deliveries along with the occasional side-eye glances. Sadly, Reddick passed away last week and this film is dedicated to his memory, but fans will still be seeing him on screen for a while yet and he has three films in addition to BALLERINA that are in post-production.
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4 opens in Hong Kong today (March 23rd). The first JW film is still the best but yeah, JW4 isn’t bad. Just don’t bring a large soda into the cinema with you or you’ll miss some of the action.
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