“John Wick uncovers a path to defeating The High Table. But before he can earn his freedom, Wick must face off against a new enemy with powerful alliances across the globe and forces that turn old friends into foes.”

Director: Chad Stahelski
Writers: Shay Hatten, Michael Finch, Derek Kolstad
Staring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Lance Riddick, Clancy Brown, Ian McShane, Donnie Yen, Hiroyuki Sanada, Laurence Fishburne, Shamier Anderson, Scott Adkins
Release Date: March 24, 2023

How do you talk about something that you love? I wholly admit that I love the John Wick universe and there are few things that anyone involved in this universe can do to make me not bow down at their feet. My expectations heading into John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023) were sky high. I was thinking to myself, Can they match what they have done in the past? Are they going to go too far? Can they wrap up Wick’s story in a satisfactory way?

The answer to all of these questions is unequivocally, yes.

John Wick: Chapter 4 takes the formula that all of its predecessors ran with and enhanced it. This whole franchise is like going through the different stages in math in high school. John Wick (2014) is basic algebra. John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) is algebra II, adding in a few more variables. You better know your PEMDAS for John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019), AKA pre-calc. 

John Wick: Chapter 4 is the final test. John Wick: Chapter 4 is AP calculus. John Wick: Chapter 4 is action cinema that makes everyone feel like Will Hunting dominating unsolvable problems in the Harvard hallways.

Keanu Reeves as John Wick

The plot of John Wick: Chapter 4 is both complex, but simple. John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is not dead. He is back, and he is ready for vengeance. He wants to not only clear the high table, he wants to destroy it. With the help of The Bowery King (Laurence FIshburne) and Winston (Ian McShane), Wick quickly gets back on his feet and begins dishing out death with precise, wreckless, abandon.

It would not be a Wick movie unless there are countless enemies attempting to get in his way. The main antagonist is Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård). He has been permitted by the high table to take out Mr. Wick by any means necessary. He has endless amounts of money and henchmen at his disposal, and he will use all of them. Marquis’s right hand man is muscle man Chidi (Marko Zaror), and the angel on his shoulder (that he never listens to) is the Harbinger (Clancy Brown).

There are some newly introduced  old friends of Mr. Wick’s as well. Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada) runs his own Continental in Japan, and he is loyal to Wick to a fault. Shimazu has a daughter Akira (Rina Sawayama) who makes it known that while she loves her father, she doesn’t love his decision to help the most wanted hitman in the world. One of the men chasing after Wick is Caine (Donnie Yen), a legendary blind assassin who is being blackmailed by the Marquis to help in this fight to cleanse the HIgh Table’s biggest threat.

So we have the good, and we have the bad. But there is a middle. There is the gray area, and that character is Nobody (Shamier Anderson). This “tracker” is a man of few words, yet immense knowledge. He and his loyal killer attack dog know a lot about the assassins universe despite not being directly linked to it. He is a man with no name, but he is a man with purpose.

Shamier Anderson as Nobody

John WIck: Chapter 4 is like turning to a new page in the cook book and trying out a familiar dish just with brand new ingredients. The formula of the movie is the same, but this time the main course is elevated. Fancier tools are made to harness the ingredients. The seasoning is kicked up a notch, and the presentation presented with tasteful garnishes of violence and bloodshed.

You know how in Ratatouille (2007) the food critic loved his mother’s version of Ratatouille and he is reminded of it when he dines at the restaurant at story’s end? John WIck: Chapter 4 is like that five star dining experience. It is that simple meal you fell in love with all the pizzazz that takes it over the top.

John Wick: Chapter 4 is visually outstanding. Safe to say this movie will never get an award nomination for its artistic look, but the movie carries itself like it is in its own class. The lighting throughout the movie is always outstanding, in particular within the Osaka Continental. The neon lighting sets a tone that the environment is both modern in its presentation but rigidly grounded in custom. It is a blend of new and old, much like the fighting styles of the warriors that hide within it. The battle at the Osaka hotel has massive guns, but there are also classic sword duels, old school archery, and fucking nunchucks.

No other franchise does club scenes like Wick. In the 2014 original you have Wick chasing after Iosef Tarasov at The Red Circle, only to be followed up by a rave in John Wick 2 where Common and Wick exchange pleasantries. We take a break from clubs in the third Wick adventure, and with good reason. One needs to build the anticipation for the grand club sequence in John Wick: Chapter 4.

There is the Osaka Hotel, there is Killa’s (Scott Adkins) club, and then there is the abandoned house incendiary bullet shotgun Holy shit I am creaming my pants one-take overhead drone POV sequence.

Good lord. Everyone was asking how they could top the absolutely bullet-riddled zaniness sequence at the end of John Wick: Chapter 3: Parabellum. We were fools to question anyone. Director Chad Stahelski alongside cinematographer Dan Lausten and production designer Kevn Kavannaugh orchestrates one of what is sure to be the most rewatched action sequences this calendar year. Wick going from room-to-room laying waste to poor french mercenaries by blowing them to bits with fire-breathing shotgun pellets is high art. It belongs in the action movie Louvre. The audience is like god looking down at an enlarged Clue board watching the finest death dealing killing machine paint his masterpiece. Is it John WIck, with the shotgun, in the study? In the hallway? In the staircase? It is all of the above.

John Wick: Chapter 4 has the look and the action everyone fantasized about. But what about the characters? Each Wick movie brings with it new henchmen, new bad guys, and sometimes some new allies. Does John Wick: Chapter 4 continue this tradition?

Of course it does.

Marquis is the new overarching bad man. The arrogant rich French aristocrat played by Bill Skarsgård is portrayed as if he is living in the lap of Marie Antonette. Every scene Marquis appears in has something that is monstrous in scale. Grandiose in its pomp and circumstance. Marquis is a man dressed to the nines at all times and his words are as sharp as edges on his tailored three piece suits. Skarsgård is wonderfully eely when he talks down to those he is ridiculing, but you can also sense him squirming underneath his silk when his plans begin to fall apart. 

Stemming down from Marquis, you have his muscle in Chidi. Much like Ares (Ruby Rose) in John Wick: Chapter 2 and Zero (Mark Dacascos) in Parabellum, this dealer of death has his own style and personality. His brute strength is the opposite of Wick’s cleverness and fluidity. The opposing styles clash multiple times, each leaving you with more disdain for the Frenchman.

There are a few more associates of the bad guys that deserve love. We get Clancy Brown, who many (not really) will recognize as Kurgan from Highlander (1986). He gets to play Harbinger, the sage advice giving elder of Marquis who is often ignored. He dresses in black and stays out of the line of fire, but the energy he brings is straight heat.

The ultimate flamethrower performance though is Scott Adkins as Killa. This man puts on a fat suit, wears fake teeth, and absolutely dominates the movie from the moment he is introduced. He gets to deal in verbal combat when he, Wick, Nobody and Caine are all playing their mental and literal game poker. He is literally enormous, and his voice and fighting style match the energy that Adkins brings. The character of Killa is an homage to Jaws, the metal-toothed strong man from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979). He is a monstrosity of a man, yet you can not look away from him even when he is taking a pull from his definitely overworked inhaler.

We have the bad guys, so what about the heroes? 

It goes without saying that Keanu Reeves is great. The man does not need to speak a single word and you could tell exactly what John Wick is thinking. The man has his own language with head tilts and body language. I say this with literally the utmost respect, but Reeves could act out Wick in his sleep. Zero complaints about Reeves. This whole franchise goes on his Hall of Fame resume, and one could argue it’d be the opening line of his induction resume.

Laurence Fishburne takes a slight step down in terms of screen time as the Bowery King, but his voice is still attached to a megaphone whenever he speaks. Right from the jump of John Wick: Chapter 4, you know that the Bowery King is there with Wick as of his very last remaining friends and allies. Two men linked together by hatred and revenge. A beautiful friendship.

But the most loving relationship, and the most complicated, is Winston and Wick. Ian McShane returns, and with every movie he has taken a step forward in terms of prominence. In Chapter 4, McShane gets to unfurl more quiet sassiness and clever politicking, most often at the expense of the Marquis. Winston the character has a Napoleon complex, and watching him slither around the Marquis, a fancy-boy French guy, is outstanding. There is an early scene where Marquis gets the upper hand on Winston, resulting in explosive and deadly consequences. Later in the movie the two meet up for a parle once more, but this time Winston is ready. This time Winston is able to spar with Marquis and remind the young man that despite his many resources, he lacks one very important thing. The Marquis does not have Mr. Wick on his side.

In terms of characters that are purely benevolent characters, forgetting to mention Charon (Lance Reddick) would be a crime. It is sad to see Riddick on the screen knowing that he has recently passed away, but his character gets a proper send off in John Wick: Chapter 4. What happens to Winston’s right-hand man sets the story up and establishes the stakes at hand.

The new good guy introduced in the first act of Chapter 4 is Hiroyuki Sanada’s Shimazu. Fans of kung-fu and action movies will recognize the face of Sanada as soon as he enters, and damn is this man doesn’t embody true samurai energy. He does have a few years under his belt being nearly 63 years old, but the Tokyo-born actor uses that age as extra padding when he is preaching fantastic bits of wisdom.

“Friendship means little when it’s convenient.” – Shimazu

Shimazu takes Wick into his Continental hotel, which brings death and destruction onto the supposed-to-be-peaceful property. Among the dispensers of death that search of Shimazu and Wick is a blind man by the name of Caine, played by Donnie Yen. Caine and Nobody are two characters who live in the gray area in terms of good and evil. Each are attempting to kill Mr. Wick, but their motivations are not painted in evil shades. 

Caine is brought out of retirement by the Marquis to track down and kill John WIck. Caine does not want to do this because he is friends with John. They have a connection that stretches back years and the respect for one another is shared with reverence. The only reason Caine returns to hurl death once more is because the Marquis is threatening the life of his daughter, who the High Table has protected for many years. It is blackmail. Caine takes up the vow to serve the Marquis once more, but he lets his boss know that he is not happy about it. 

Yen plays the part of Caine with a comedic flare that is matched with fantastic physical creativity. This is not the first time that Yen has played a blind warrior with a deep sense of obligation; look at Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016). In John Wick: Chapter 4, Yen doesn’t stick with the straight faced, soft spoken, staff wielding vibe. In John Wick: Chapter 4, Yen goes with the fuck you comedic approach. We see Caine slurping on noodles before dispensing death. We hear Caine cuss out his employer and take pleasure in the absurdity of the situations he finds himself in. Yen does a great job of finding the perfect centerpoint in the venn diagram of duty, respect, and disinterest. He is a man who looks like he is nonchalant in all he does, but come showtime, it’s curtains for anyone who is against him.

The fact that John Wick: Chapter 4 sets up a traditional samurai sword duel between Caine and Shimazu in the first act of the movie is outstanding. The stakes are well established, and the duel is seeped with purpose and not treated as an accoutrement. The writers could have written a face-off between Yen and Sanada just to appease the kung-fu adoring audience and people would have salivated. Instead of taking that short road, the writers treated this moment with the respect it deserves, making it even more magnetic to watch.

Donnie Yen as Caine

Along with Caine in the Can I Trust You? Department is Nobody, played by Shamier Anderson. The character is an homage to the old Clint Eastwood westerns when the legendary actor played an anti-hero in Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy. The man with no name spoke a few words but carried around a big reputation. He lived by his own values and often dispensed with anyone who got in the way of his way of doing things. 

The character John Wick takes a lot from the Man With No Name, so to see John Wick: Chapter 4 flip the script and have our hero face off against a version of himself is wonderfully meta. When we meet Nobody, he is a man who has been on his own and has remained invisible. He has a code, a price for doing business, and he doesn’t operate until it is met. The way Nobody gets the stakes as high as he wishes is by meeting with the Marquis and ensuring that his mission is matched with a proper reward. He has worked his way into the world of assassins, but at what cost?

Shamier Anderson plays the part of Nobody with a ultra-white flashing smile and a quiet sense of confidence. He has an ego, but he doesn’t need to show off for people to see it. When Anderson and Skarsgård get to act against one another in the horse stable, it suitably highlights the difference between the two men. Marquis goes on-and-on talking himself into a lather, making his presence known in verbal word vomit. Nobody says some things, but his ethos is illustrated in a quiet act that highlights his own self interests.

The character of Nobody also has an interesting dichotomy with Caine. By the end of John Wick: Chapter 4, each of these men have an immense amount of respect and reverence for the man they are chasing. Caine has known Wick for years and has come to understand his appreciation. Nobody knows of Mr. Wick at the start of this journey, but by the end, the lens through which he respects the Babayaga has a completely different hue. We see the legend of Wick from someone who knows, and from someone who is learning.

There is no need to linger on the question of whether or not Mr. John Wick deserves respect. This franchise is one of the greatest action movie series of all time. It has cemented its legacy as one of the most rewatchable pieces of entertainment this century. The world of John Wick, The Continental, and all of its add-ons is a premium example of how to hook an audience in. No movie gave too much away. No movie jumped the shark. 

John Wick: Chapter 4 is a fitting finale to the John Wick saga. It wraps necessary stories up and gives fitting conclusions to various characters, but the movie still leaves the door open for anyone to enter. It is a crowning achievement to create a franchise where every single movie could be considered the best. It is a revelation to create a cinematic universe where you care as much about the lore of the world as one does its characters. The John Wick universe pays homage to different movie genres, clichés, cultures and characters and John Wick: Chapter 4 continues that tradition with bloody, violent, beautiful elegance.

And to think. This all started with a puppy.


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