John Wick (Keanu Reeves) uses nunchucks against an armored assassin. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
LOS ANGELES, March 13 (UPI) — John Wick: Chapter 4, in theaters March 24, boasts truly innovative action — not only by the standards of the John Wick series, but also for all of cinema, thanks to the innovations of director Chad Stahelski and the 87eleven action team.
Unfortunately for John (Keanu Reeves), but fortunately for fans, leaving his career as an international hit man has not been easy. After three films, the High Table of assassins has left John for dead, and even his allies at The Continental hotel have turned on him.
When Chapter 4 picks up, John has been recuperating and training while hiding in the Bowery King’s (Laurence Fishburne) underground lair. Meanwhile, New York Continental manager Winston (Ian McShane) faces new punishment from his High Table superiors.
The Marquis (Bill Skarsgard) removes Winston from his position of authority and hires new assassins to hunt John. So, John plots to overthrow the Marquis and force the High Table to let him leave the society of assassins for good.
John Wick: Chapter 4 makes big moves to shake up the mythology of the Continental. The film also embraces the epic nature of the ever-expanding mythology.
New characters get dramatic introductions, setting up pieces for John to navigate this time. It successfully invests viewers in characters who have just joined the story in the fourth part.
John’s Japanese allies Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his daughter, Akira (Rina Sawayama), have a strong enough dynamic that when they engage in battle, one worries they might be in danger. Caine (Donnie Yen) also is in an impossible position, forced to pursue John to save his own family.
When the action begins, it is just as epic and relentless as the build-up. Every action scene in John Wick: Chapter 4 could be the climax of any other movie. There is no small fight in this movie.
One battle incorporates martial arts and gunplay with vehicular traffic. There surely are special effects to blend all the elements together and make it feasible to execute such a sequence, but it looks and feels like cars and people are interacting, a quality missing from many recent movies.
A melee in a building unfolds in one seen from above in a single, uninterrupted take. John coordinates a takedown of multiple parties in different rooms, with the viewer taking in that complexity from a bird’s eye view.
The mythology also informs the choreography. John Wick: Chapter 2 established that High Table assassins wear bulletproof suits, and that changes the way characters fight.
John Wick and his enemies hold their arms up to their faces because their sleeves can deflect bullets. In the real world, no one would bother with such moves because regular fabric encased arms would do nothing against artillery.
These characters also understand the vulnerabilities of their attire so they exploit them surgically in their combat. This may be the most brutal John Wick yet, but it’s as brutal on John as John is on his enemies.
The Osaka Continental staff arm up in a montage similar to previous John Wick movies, only they do so entirely with Japanese weapons. Reeves demonstrates grace and brutality when he borrows some of those weapons. There are even archers amid a John Wick gun battle.
With all the embellishments the John Wick universe has added to its reality, Chapter 4 still creates stakes for John. He has a time limit, and even if he can take on all comers, it still takes time to defend himself, so he still may not make it to his destination.
The characters in authority positions speak such cryptic dialogue that it makes John’s simple affirmative responses refreshing. John isn’t going to try to double-talk you. He’ll tell you straight if he’s going to kill you.
The John Wick movies are the best in the genre because it looks like the filmmakers care about every detail put into every frame. The revolutionary could become standard after four films, but John Wick: Chapter 4 takes cinema to the next level once again.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.