The stakes have never been higher for The Baba Yaga as The High Table continues its pursuit for the bounty on his head in the newest chapter of the John Wick saga.
The John Wick franchise has been one of the most consistently enjoyable action movie series since it began thanks to its interesting criminal underworld, incredible fight choreography and Keanu Reeves’ intensity as an action star. After years of delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, John Wick: Chapter 4 finally comes out this weekend and serves as an overlong, but otherwise entertaining addition to the action saga for its breathtaking action sequences, stylish visuals and meticulous storytelling.
John Wick: Chapter 4 takes place some time after Chapter 3: Parabellum left off, where the titular assassin played by Keanu Reeves has taken refuge in the hideout of The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) to plan his vengeance against The High Table for trying to kill him at the end of the previous film. Upon receiving word of his return above ground, a senior member of the High Table named Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgard) enlists blind High Table assassin Caine (Donnie Yen) to kill John, threatening to kill his daughter should he refuse.
What follows is a gonzo but grand globetrotting adventure that sees John Wick travel from New York City to Japan, then Germany and even Paris, France, where throughout his quest to regain his freedom from a life of criminal espionage, he runs into not only old friends like Winston (Ian McShane) and his adoptive Belarus crime family, but also allies new to the franchise such as Osaka Continental manager Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his daughter Akira (Rina Sawayama), in addition to new enemies like the nefarious German crime boss Killa (Scott Adkins) and Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson), a tracker hunting Wick for the bounty on his head.
John Wick is a franchise best known for its action sequences, and the fights in this fourth installment are as exhilarating as they have been thanks to their intense, fast-paced choreography and equally stylized, moody visuals accentuated by vibrant colors and ominous shadows. However, the action in John Wick: Chapter 4 ups the ante for the Baba Yaga’s latest adventure in a myriad of creative ways, from the multitude of goons John comes into contact with smartly wearing metal masks and all-over Kevlar to take as many blows and gunshots John fires in their direction, to the action set pieces built around the landmarks of a given city.
One instance comes when a myriad of assassins and hitmen try to corner John into the roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, in what becomes the most painful game of human Frogger ever depicted. Point being, the battles here have never been more difficult for John Wick, and Keanu Reeves sells how physically taxing they are in quiet moments between battles where John struggles to regain his bearings, let alone stand up in revealing exhaustion.
The new characters that put John in their crosshairs also have their time to shine in John Wick Chapter 4; most notably Donnie Yen’s turn as assassin Caine. Unlike his first major stateside role as the blind monk Chirrut Imwe in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Caine’s blindness doesn’t amplify his fighting abilities, as Yen often waves Caine’s walking staff around to realistically find someone in close proximity and make sure of his own location like any normal blind person.
But the script also grounds how he’s adapted his combat skills to his lack of sight through clever spots such as a beat where he places what appear to be bombs on the walls of a hotel kitchen, only for them to emit a loud sound when a goon passes through it to tip Caine where they are.
A particular element of this franchise that often goes overlooked is the artful meticulousness that goes into the storytelling, and that makes its presence known both in and out of the fight sequences of John Wick: Chapter 4, from the upscale extravagance of the film’s locations like the Marquis’s penthouse in New York to Killa’s office within a Berlin nightclub, where Wick and his pursuers meet their mutual enemy in an unsettling near-abstract void. The film also does a stellar job of using art to tell its story, with one example coming when Winston admires Theodore Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa after a conversation in a museum with the Marquis; as if to visually imply what John’s inner torment brought by the life of violence looks like.
If there are any flaws to be seen within John Wick: Chapter 4, they are minor and ultimately dependent on the spectator. The film evolves minute details to the logic of the franchise’s universe to the point of contradicting their lore, most notably by showing background extras running away from a given fight scene, compared to earlier chapters where passers-by would just go about their business by paying no mind to the brutal hand-to-hand combat going on before them. It’s also worth noting that despite being paced very well in the editing room, the film runs longer than any of the previous entries in the franchise at a whopping 2 hours and 49 minutes, which could test the patience of audiences not enthused by the action genre.
But with large stakes come large changes, and Chapter 4 is a breathtaking and thrilling coda to the John Wick saga. Audiences will be on the edge of their proverbial seats for the duration of every action set-piece, cringe at the sounds and looks of all the bumps taken by each character, yearn for John to earn his freedom against all odds, be shaken by the surprises the script throws their way, and remain excited for the franchise’s future through its promising new characters. The John Wick series has injected its genre with cultured sensibilities since its birth, and Chapter 4 cements its place as the astounding intersection of artistry and action.