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Friday, March 24, 2023

‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ Review – Epic Action Spectacle Stretches Itself Thin But Delivers the Goods

To dub John Wick: Chapter 4 one of the weaker sequels in franchise canon says more about the bulletproof exterior of Chapter 2 and Parabellum. Director Chad Stahelski abides by the country-hopping, Gun-Fu trademarks of Mr. Wick’s odyssey thus far, delivering everything longtime fans desire. Keanu Reeves headshots his way through nightlife bodyguards, action superstars camouflaged under prosthetics, and hired assassins with all the grace of a ballerina gliding across venue stages. Except, this time there’s something different — you can feel the runtime. An almost three-hour Grecian epic turned into a blistering action spectacle stretches thin as the third act culminates, a first for any John Wick movie.

Even still, John Wick: Chapter 4 keeps its foot on the gas, and the tank ain’t empty yet. It just happens to be hitched to one of the greatest American action franchises.

Reeves doesn’t skip a beat as John Wick, picking right back up with bloody knuckles. The High Table hasn’t permitted John his freedom, and worse, they’ve enlisted the royally snobbish Marquis (Bill Skarsgård) to destroy John’s legacy. Revenge is still the name of yet another John Wick game of cats with machine guns and mice with bulletproof Kevlar tailored suits — with The High Table taking extreme actions. That includes the brilliant casting of Donnie Yen as blind mercenary Caine, Shamier Anderson as a dog-loving tracker going by “Mr. Nobody,” and Scott Adkins as the rotund crime lord Killa, all fantastic foes and frenemies who dive head-first into John’s deadly world.

All the John Wick franchise bells and whistles are in working order. Ian McShane still delivers the most hilariously biting lines as Winston, as much as the late Lance Reddick reminds us why he’ll be tragically missed as the New York City Continental’s concierge Charon. Reeves is still a gentlemanly Gun-Fu powerhouse, whether dodging cars in a spiraling kill spree around France’s Arc de Triomphe or sharing a glass of Japanese whiskey with old pal Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada) in Osaka. No one’s beating Laurence Fishburne‘s bellowing announcements as the Bowery King, just like no one’s besting Reeve’s blend of locked-and-loaded pistol techniques combined with martial arts smoothness. The tenets of John Wick: Chapter 4 are familiar and provide a sturdy foundation that writers Shay Hatten and Michael Finch build atop with the Marquis’ merciless brand of John Wick erasure that sends messages through the entire assassin underworld.

What John Wick: Chapter 4 does best is pay reverence to international action excellence that has profoundly influenced Stahelski’s franchise. Stylistic appeal blends Akira Kurosawa with Walter Hill, or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with Indonesia’s massive genre movement à la The Raid to The Night Comes For Us, because John Wick movies have always been at their best when ignoring bulkier, bodyslammy American tendencies. The immaculate siege sequence in Shimazu’s Osaka Continental hotel is a breathtaking display of cherry blossom trees backgrounding gorgeous standoff cinematography, and features actress Rina Sawayama‘s exceptional agility as Akira punctures bruiser types with cold steel twenty times before they even see her face. Stahelski has always been upfront about the stunt choreography’s influences film to film, but John Wick: Chapter 4 is the first to burst so cleanly with visual odes to the beloved classics to which John Wick owes immense gratitude.

In true Wickian fashion, there’s also reinvention within the film that tries its damndest to give audiences something fresh. In Killa’s nightclub mayhem, where John brutalizes baddies as crowds rave to industrial DJ tracks, Adkins is the special treat as he brings his immeasurable combat skills to the Kingpin-esque character. Elsewhere, John’s engagement through derelict Paris buildings against thugs turns into a top-down, Hotline Miami-like video game mode where we see multiple rooms from above, with John running around like an animal in an experimental maze — except he also excitingly blasts a shotgun with inferno shells. Then there’s anything Yen does because no one can match what he brings to a role, characterizing his sightlessness with silky sonar motions whether his head is aimed at the point of contact or not. The franchise still has juice and succeeds because it keeps innovating instead of replicating itself.

Although, and here’s where the downer in me shows himself because — for all the good vibes mentioned above — this is the first John Wick movie that does feel a tad bit cyclical towards the end. At two hours and fifty minutes, a lot of pressure is put on an overload of action spectacles that loses some steam in the third act. We’ve seen the evildoer who puts a bounty on John’s head and the bulletstorm chase that ensues. We know what’s coming, and while the production finds fun ways to incorporate French landmarks into shoot-out detours, indulgence causes our filled-to-the-brim stomachs for violence to bloat. Audiences watch John Wick movies for the superhero insanity that keeps John hurtling forward towards his next target, unfazed by stories-high falls or stitched-up wounds — but John Wick: Chapter 4 finds the limit of how long that gimmick can grasp our attention.

Don’t take anything here to mean the franchise should be dead and buried. Keanu Reeves and Chad Stahelski make magic together again, evolving the character’s “shoot first, consequences later” way of life to a ponderous point as Jonathan watches everyone else pay for his defiance. John Wick: Chapter 4 is another fantastic display of rhythmic action-hero excess that proves why American genre filmmakers need to be looking overseas for inspiration when at its best, even though momentum trudges towards the end with not only duration heft but a few plot strands that eventually fray, never laced tight. It’s a sequel any franchise should be proud to bow out on (not counting spin-offs), only its aim is uncustomarily off-center in a series that’s thus far shot straighter than even Mr. Wick’s near flawless marksmanship.

The post ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ Review – Epic Action Spectacle Stretches Itself Thin But Delivers the Goods appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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