John Wick (Keanu Reeves) uncovers a path to defeating the High Table and earning his freedom. He takes on his most lethal adversaries yet in this 4th instalment of the series. There's a new enemy with powerful alliances across the globe, and forces that turn old friends into foes. With the price on his head ever increasing, he has powerful players in the underworld thwarting his path from New York to Paris to Osaka to Berlin.
John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023) is written by Shay Hatten and Michael Fince, based on characters created by Derek Kolstad and directed by Chad Stahelski. It stars Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgård, Laurence Fishburne, Hiroyuki Sanada, Shamier Anderson, Lance Reddick, Rina Sawayama, Scott Admins, Clancy Brown, Natalia Tena, Marko Zaror and Ian McShane. It's screening in cinemas now, with a massive runtime of two hours and 49 minutes.
Here's a condensed recap for those of you who've not seen John Wick (2014), John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017), and John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019). You can play catch-up and find it on Netflix and Stan. In the first chapter, you are introduced to the legendary hitman coping with the loss of the love of his life. He finds solace in the beagle puppy left to him by his beloved Helen. As it happens, John gets into an altercation when a spoiled brat named Iosef, the son of a ruthless Russian mob boss who John used to work for in New York, who wants to buy his car. John refuses and later that night he is attacked at home, his place ransacked, his dog killed and his car stolen. From then on it's a case of hell hath no fury like a man avenging his beloved pup, and the John Wick single-man army is born. Aside from the violence and 'cool' action sequences, Chapter 1 had a solid emotional storyline that left you thirsting for another chapter.
In Chapter 2, news has spread that Wick has come out of retirement and the 2nd in command of the Camorra crime family comes visiting for a favour. However, John is unwilling to return to a life of crime, even when reminded of a marker, a certain blood oath he made during his last job, which cannot be refused. The refusal has consequences. Furious, John seeks retaliation and heads to the safe grounds of the 'Continental', only to be reminded of the cardinal rules of their underworld; the no-kill rules on Continental ground and to honour one's marker given to another person. Break the rules and you're 'excommunicado' - an open target of the underworld, with no form of protection or service from anyone, and an overseeing body, the 'High Table' (the governing body of the world of assassins made up of 12 of the world's most powerful crime lords) seeking to end your life. John ends up killing on forbidden Continental premises and is declared an excommunicado.
Parabellum, the 3rd chapter, sees Wick as an outcast, a heavy bounty on his head. Any and everybody is out to kill him as he races against time to secure some essentials before the one-hour head start he is given by Winston (Ian McShane - the owner of the NY Continental Hotel and high-ranking official of the High Table) ends. He seeks help from a Russian crime organisation with his 'ticket' to demand one last favour for safe passage to Casablanca, where he picks up another favour owed to him to seek the Elder, whose command the High Table obeys. The price is lifelong loyalty to the High Table and to kill Winston. Face to Face, John spares Winston which results in the 'Continental' being deconsecrated and Winston becoming a target as well. However, Winston makes his own deal with the adjudicator to be reinstated and betrays John by shooting him off a rooftop as a show of loyalty. Unable to recover John's body, the adjudicator warns Winston of the dire consequences of helping a fugitive.
Finally, in Chapter 4, John uncovers an ancient loophole and pursuing it would give him complete freedom if he wins. Much to the Marquis' chagrin, he is slated to take on Wick in a duel for Wick to lift the contract. This duel is going to be anything but fair in spite of the Harbinger - a kind of mediator played by veteran actor Clancy Brown. Every possible killer obstacle is thrown at Wick, to ensure he does not get to the duel at the appointed time, thus forfeiting his freedom. Chapter 4 has a star-studded lineup of new characters with Donnie Yen (star of Ip Man franchise) making his debut as Caine, a visually impaired High Table operative. Bill Skarsgård (famous family of Swedish Skarsgård actors from father Stellan to Tarzan Alexander) as the Marquis de Gramont, a powerful member of the High Table organisation in charge of cleaning up all the messes. Another familiar famous face, Hiroyuki Sana (The Last Samurai) joins the Wick cast in the role of Shimazu, the Manager of the Osaka Continental Hotel, and a completely new face, Canadian actor Shamier Anderson as the Tracker, 'Mr. Nobody' and his faithful dog 'Nuts', and you'll find out why. This is a refreshing injection of the odd man out, the outsider among the community of international assassins. He plays the role with a quiet reserve and is as close to normal as you can get in the Wick franchise. He's no Kevlar-wearing assassin but a drifter with cargo pants and a beanie, fighting as one with his dog.
This new rogue's gallery looks to be the biggest instalment yet. Lance Reddick as the Concierge of the Continental appears in his last and for me, an almost prophetic role as Charon, passing away from natural causes in real life at the age of 60 on 17 March this year. Chapter 4 doesn't disappoint, injected with all the hallmarks of the Wicks franchise; action-packed, a slew of violent encounters, and a huge kill count of almost unkillable villains with their kevlar suits at the hands of the seemingly equally invincible Wick. Without a lot of time elapsing between kills and deadly face-offs, there's hardly time for emotive content that would have added heft to the story. The show of friendship and royalty between Wick and Shimazu who puts his life on the line for his belief in honour, and unexpected alliances, in the end, could have emotively added layers to the film if expanded upon, but it was not to be.
Breaking the cycle of violence were opulent scenes of magnificent settings that architecturally took your breath away and allowed you to take a break from a kill. Hard to believe and perhaps unintended? but there's an injection of physical comedy that borders on the ridiculous but exacted healthy guffaws from the audience. Despite being nearly three hours long, and with relatively little dialogue. the film does not drag as there's little downtime. For the most part, Wick chases or is chased by other assassins, shooting, stabbing and grappling his way through an endless number of kills. Kudos to Keanu for the stamina he injects into what has to be a physically demanding role. Diehard fans of John Wick will not be disappointed in this kill-or-be-killed series. It is visually magnificent with its creative camera angles and expertly choreographed fight scenes it is known for. For some, the repetitive signature fighting moves over and over again could be more numbing than thrilling. It does not quite capitalise on all of Reeve's strengths as he is left muttering a lot of one-liners, with no emotional clarity. The lengthy movie does however present as much audience-pleasing inventive mayhem as possible as this hitman seeks to extricate himself from his ties to the High Table.